New adventures ahead

Last week I took my first steps into a new world as features editor here at the Courier & Press.

When I was hired about two years ago as senior features writer, I knew this was the kind of paper for which I had always wanted to work.

What I didn’t realize was at that same place I would find a tremendous mentor and friend in the woman I am replacing, Linda Negro.

I find myself trying to fill some pretty big shoes.

As a newsroom, we just said goodbye to five valuable colleagues, tremendously skilled journalists with deep ties to this community. Two of those five came from my department — Linda and longtime arts and entertainment reporter Roger McBain.

Their departure is a loss we will certainly feel in the newsroom. I learned much from Linda and Roger in a short time.

Yet, this big change has also provided an opportunity for a next generation of leaders to step up. In addition to myself, two others have taken on new roles of leadership in the newsroom — Jon Webb as assistant metro editor and Erin McCracken as photo editor.
I am excited that the Courier & Press’ leadership has shown confidence in us as we work to introduce the newspaper to a new audience.

If you haven’t been a regular reader of my occasional column and daily parenting blog, here’s a quick intro. I am a native of Vincennes, have worked for newspapers all over the country for about a decade and came back to Evansville early last year. I have a family — Louisiana-native husband Michael and two little boys. Miles is a strong-willed and spirited 3-year-old who attends preschool at St. Theresa School, and Owen is a lovable two-month-old night owl obsessed with his momma and ceiling fans.

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As a career journalist, I strongly believe that a newspaper must remain a vital part of any community. It is my hope that we can find a way to reach out to people my age and younger, for which to many, the newspaper is seen as a thing of the past.

I don’t think that’s true at all. And in interacting with the public I’ve discovered a number of my regular blog readers — young parents, professionals and more — who like what we as a newspaper do. I’m hoping to help even more discover this too.

This doesn’t mean we are neglecting or forgetting our established readers. We will continue to do many of the things you enjoy. Hopefully you will also enjoy the innovative and exciting storytelling and new ideas we are adding as we try to reach more people and enrich our audience.

Linda’s strong involvement in several nonprofits and service organizations has been a very important part of the newspaper’s efforts to be an engaged and vital member of the community. It’s important for me to live up to that example and continue my own dedication to community service. As a returned Peace Corps volunteer — I taught English and HIV/AIDS awareness in Bangladesh — this has always been a big part of my life.

One of the city squares in Comilla.

One of the city squares in Comilla.

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I currently serve as the vice president on the board of directors for Project Reveal, a nonprofit that’s working to provide a voice and community for women by sharing their stories of daily struggles and survival through written, video and photo “reveals.”

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My first act as editor was to hire Roger’s replacement, a huge challenge. His talent and connections are irreplaceable. But our new reporter, Kelly Gifford, has an energy and enthusiasm that will serve the arts community well. She’s excited about incorporating new storytelling techniques and will breathe new life into our coverage. Check out her weekly column, Culture Shock, on page D3.

My family and I plan to be here in Evansville for a long, long time. So I have a vested interest in seeing this community thrive and grow. I hope this paper continues to play a role in that by telling the stories that you the reader want to hear.

That’s where you come in. What kinds of stories do you want Kelly and me to tell? What changes would you like to see? I look forward to your input and working to make this paper the best we can for our readers.

Until next time.

Back at work

In one breath I can say, “Eight weeks isn’t enough time!” and “Oh my goodness I was so ready to come back.”

I returned to work exactly 56 days after giving birth to my newest joy and blessing and the little creature that ensures I get no more than three hours of sleep every day — Owen Michael. I loved my time home with Owen and older son Miles when he wasn’t at school.

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Those eight weeks were an amazing opportunity to bond with my new son and also to help Miles adjust to a different home dynamic. It was also a chance to see a whole lot more of my husband and to get our money’s worth from our Netflix account (I’d be embarrassed to tell you how many television series I consumed during those sleepless, long nights.)

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I had all these grand plans of the things I’d accomplish over maternity leave both in the way of tasks that had been put off and Pinterest-worthy activities we’d do as a family.
Wah-wah. (That’s the game show “you didn’t get it right” sound effect.)

Not much got accomplished beyond snuggling. I am nursing Owen so those first few weeks it felt like I didn’t really move much from the little nest I’d created for myself. I was grateful to have Michael there to refill my beverage and bring me snacks when I was tethered down by a baby who was hungry, needed comfort or had fallen asleep and looked too darn comfortable to move.

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Miles was always able to find his spot on my lap too so I would still be able to snuggle him while nursing Owen. Those quiet moments with both of my babies snuggled peacefully and closely to my chest were magical. That’s when I said — eight weeks isn’t enough time! I can’t go back to work. How can I leave this tiny baby and little boy who need their mama? How will I be able to focus on my work when all I can think of is Owen’s pursed little lips and shiny eyes? It’s not enough time!

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And in a lot of ways it wasn’t.

But, there were also days or moments when I was hunkered down in that little nursing nest when it didn’t feel like a cozy, comfortable retreat to snuggle and nourish my baby. Instead it felt like a prison. I wanted out of the house. I wanted to shower on a daily basis. I wanted to not have a baby attached to me 24/7. I wanted to be able to eat a meal while it was still hot. I wanted to be able to sleep more than the hour here or there between nursing, pumping and laundry. I missed my work and my co-workers.

Those are the moments when I would scream (in my own head of course), “I’m ready to go back!”

And of course when my maternity leave finally started to wind down I was feeling less and less ready. A lot of that stemmed from guilt — I was leaving my tiny, helpless baby in the care of someone other than me, really for the first time. Anxiety peaked the night before as I ran over the list of “how-tos” with my husband — who I know is more than capable. I’m lucky is able to be the caregiver.

An additional factor is that just days after I return I’ll be taking over as the features editor as my editor, Linda Negro, and fellow reporter Roger McBain are both retiring. While out on maternity leave I interviewed candidates to find a replacement for Roger and I thought about (and if I’m honest fretted a little) about how things would work. So in addition to some guilt with my return, I’m facing a little doubt and fears of inadequacy.

The day finally arrived; I came to work. I just cried a little in the parking lot. I have an amazing group of friends and co-workers who surprised me with treats and gifts to distract from the stress of the day and I kept busy and accomplished a lot. And while things were going well at the office, poor little Owen (and his daddy) were struggling at home. Owen refused to take a bottle. He’d taken about three up to that point so he was far from an expert but at least knew what he was doing. But he flat out refused. He was hungry. Hungry babies scream.

So much of that first day Michael had a screaming, starving baby and I worried from work. That night Owen nursed for about four hours.

Day 2 I got a desperate text message from Michael: “This is not working. The longer I try to more upset he gets and the more frustrated I get. It’s not doing anybody any good. You might need to come home and feed him. I can’t do anything for him.”

That message broke my heart for both Owen and Michael. I hated the notion that my husband felt helpless to soothe and comfort our son and I was devastated that my son was hungry and couldn’t stop crying.

My first instinct was to run home and nurse him. But I knew it wasn’t the solution. So we waited it out.

I called the pediatrician, the hospital’s lactation services, my mom and my friends. They all agreed that he would eat when he was hungry enough and that it was worse for us than him.

By 4 p.m. Michael texted a picture of a smiling, happy baby.

“I think we have a breakthrough — empty bottle, happy baby!”

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Happy and relieved mommy too!

So, is eight weeks enough? For this mom it might have been. I’m so happy to be back especially with the challenges and changes ahead. I’m not going to lie though, it certainly doesn’t come without sacrifice. But, I’m treasuring my time outside of home grateful that I’m able to support my family and my sanity.​

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Two-wheeled wonder

As I mentioned yesterday, Miles scored big-time in the gift department when his grandparents (my parents) visited this past week.

MeMe and Pawpaw decided Miles needed his first real bicycle. A monumental occasion for a little boy for sure. So off to the stores we went.

We finally found a winner at Wal-Mart. Miles seemed to be drawn to two bikes in particular, both of them neon green. Then we discovered that one of those green bikes, a Hot Wheels-themed one, had a speedometer and made a revving sound when you twisted the handlebar, like a motorcycle.

Decision made.

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With just a little bit of a helping hand, Miles rode his new Hot Wheels bicycle all the way from the back of the store to the register. He sat on it the entire time we waited in line, and considering it was Wal-Mart on a Saturday, that line was not a short one. Then (again, with some help, but this time from my dad) he rode it right out the front door and through the parking lot to the car.

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When we opened the hatchback to Abbey’s SUV and hoisted the bike inside, Miles scrambled in right after it. “I want to ride with my bike-cycle!!!” he said. Obviously that was not an option, but it was a lot of fun for all of us to see his enthusiasm.

The real surprise, though, came when we got home. It was just a little too cold to stay outside, so we carried the bike down to our basement, which is a big open space with plenty of room to ride around.

Within 10 minutes, Miles was riding that bike like a champ. I mean, yes, it has training wheels, but if you think about it, that whole pedaling thing must be pretty tough to figure out.

But with just a little push to get started, Miles can keep that bike going just about as long as he wants to. He even understands how to steer himself around obstacles (or into them, when he chooses to). I’m no expert on child development, but it’s pretty impressive for a three-year-old, if you ask me.

Probably won’t be too long before he’s zooming up and down our street and I’m struggling to keep up. Guess I’d better start practicing myself.

 

Meet the grandparents

Please forgive the lack of blog over the last week or so, but with the Doyle parents in town, I took a mini-vacation of a sort.

My mom and dad made the 12-hour car trip from south Louisiana to stay with us for a few days. They got to meet Owen, see how much Miles has grown since the last time we visited them in the spring, check out the new house and see a little bit of Evansville.

It was a very enjoyable, relaxing visit. We didn’t do anything monumental, but in general we just enjoyed each other’s company. Abbey and my mom hit a few arts and crafts stores, my dad helped me out with a few projects around the house.

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We all sat down and watched the LSU and Saints football games – both improbable last-minute losses in what seems to have become the norm for both teams this year – but hey, I can’t remember the last time we all sat down in the living room and watched a football game. Despite the final scores, it was a good time.

And in a pretty rare happenstance, both sides of our family got together. Abbey’s mom and sister came over one night and we all had dinner. I can count on one hand all the times that has happened. Actually I can count it with just two fingers. It was really nice and something I hope can happen a little more often from now on.

Needless to say, we all ate very well. It’s the Louisiana coming out, I guess. We went to one of my very favorite places in town, Los Bravos for Mexican food. My dad wanted a good local cheeseburger – naturally the choice was G.D. Ritzy’s. They were maybe most impressed by Papa Murphy’s pizza. I am pretty sure my dad is right at this moment starting a petition to begin that company’s expansion into the south.

Owen obviously got his fair share of attention, lots of hugs and holding and that sweet sock monkey hat, among I am sure many more gift and baby clothes I haven’t yet noticed.

 

Miles also made out like a bandit, scoring his first big-boy bicycle (more on that later in the week) and somehow stole the spotlight away from his baby brother a few times. His MeMe (my mom’s grandmother name) read him books at bedtime almost every night. I found myself just watching as Miles squeezed into the recliner with my mom. I don’t get to see them interact that much, but it’s amazing how natural it was. I guess family is family no matter how far apart you are, or how seldom you get to see each other in person.

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Miles helped me see them off this morning, luring them back out of my dad’s truck for one more goodbye hug. We both waved until they drove out of sight.

Of course, there I was, a grown adult, struggling not to cry when my parents left. It’s hard to describe why exactly. When you live no further than 40 miles from your parents all your life and suddenly live 12 hours away, those goodbyes are a lot harder.

But we hope to make a trip down to see them in the spring.

In the meantime, I will be trying to figure out if there’s any way to mail a Papa Murphy’s pizza.

 

 

Thinking healthy

Last week, I wrote a story about a very nice man, Larry “Ox” Townsend, from Henderson, who has recovered from a stroke he had earlier this year. It got me thinking about a few things, mostly that I need to start taking better care of myself.

I’m 35, staring down the barrel of 40, and some days I feel like I’m 80. Too much bad food, not enough exercise, poor sleep habits, too much stress – all those risk factors that I am sure affect a whole lot of us.

As Mr. Townsend told me his story, I knew exactly what he was talking about.

The main thing is food. I like food. I really like meat, and salty things, and spicy things and cheesy things and fried things. And sugary drinks. Pretty much all the stuff you’re supposed to stay away from.

Of course, as I type this blog, there’s a commercial on the radio for Subway’s new pastrami melt sandwich. See, I love pastrami. I am kind of obsessed with it, actually.

I haven’t even really started the “health kick” and I’m already feeling like it’s going to be an uphill battle.

It’s not like I haven’t tried before. I’ve gone on diets before, dropped 20 or 25 pounds and thought, “Hey this is not hard at all.”

But I’ve never really stuck with it. That’s the hard part. You start to think you have control, and hey, I lost all that weight. I can eat that whole pizza, just this one time. But then one time becomes twice, then three times, then before you know it you’re supporting the Tri-State pizza industry all by yourself and back to your old weight.

I know what you’re thinking. “Hey this guy is talking about starting a diet with Thanksgiving coming up, good luck with all that.” And you’re probably right.

But I think if I start slow, cutting down on the soft drinks …

(Down south we call them “cokes” regardless of whether it’s Coke or Dr. Pepper or whatever, but that’s another blog entry for another time)

… I think I can build up to a better overall plan. Cutting out a few things at a time, instead of just dropping everything at once and expecting a miracle.

With two little kids around, I need to do a better job this time. I’m not committing myself to a “full body transformation” or anything crazy. I won’t be doing P90’s or crossfit or any of that stuff right now. I just want to start eating a little better.

Now if they’ll just stop running that darn Subway commercial…

Gaseous happenings

Little Owen has some gas problems.

It’s not unexpected, I mean, the nurses did tell us that newborns have an undeveloped digestive tract. And I do remember that Miles had some issues there.

Baby gets the gas face.

I’m sure you’re thinking, “Oh but they’re cute little baby toots.”

Not really, though. These are full-blown, rip-roaring FARTS, the kind of thing you’d expect to hear coming from medium-sized cattle. Some of them go on for 5 or 6 seconds, and then when you think the poor boy couldn’t possibly expel any more gas they start again.

If he could walk he’d be cropdusting the living room.

Fortunately, for our sakes, they don’t smell at all.

(I wish I could say the same about the dog, who dines frequently from the trash can these days. Don’t ask.)

I just feel bad for him though. You can tell when he’s in pain because he starts kicking and shaking his little fists. The tough thing is, he can’t always get it out on his own, and sometimes it keeps him from sleeping like he should.

Earlier today, during a particularly bad episode, he found the soft part of my throat with his little fingernails. And thanks to all those good prenatal vitamins, babies do have seriously sharp fingernails. But I don’t blame him, I’d probably want to take it out on somebody too.

We’ve got an array of gas medicines, gripe waters and burping/patting techniques at our disposal. There’s something called “bicycle legs” which is pretty much exactly like it sounds – you pump his legs up and down to, you know, force things to happen and get the gas out. It’s kind of like “burping” him, but you’re burping the other end. If ya know what I mean.

Unfortunatley, there doesn’t seem to really be any good solution to the problem. We just have to wait until his poor little stomach develops some more. If anybody knows of anything else, please feel free to suggest.

In the meantime, next time he’s gassy, we’ll just put the camera on video mode. Who knows, maybe he could be a big YouTube star.

The highs and lows

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Three-year-old Miles sure is a roller coaster ride these days.

So when Owen was having newborn pictures taken at home yesterday, and it came time to pick up Miles from preschool, something told me a little field trip was in order.

“I should probably just not bring Miles right back home, huh?” I asked Abbey.

Looking around at all the very breakable camera equipment inhabiting the living room, a vaguely fearful look crossed my wife’s face.

“Oooh, yeah,” she said. “That’s probably a good idea. Take him out for lunch or something. Stay out a while.”

I decided McDonald’s on the west side of town was the place to go. I know, I know, the food is terrible, but with all the energy he expends I figure calorie-burning is not really a problem at this point. Plus they have a great playground there.

I got to St. Theresa’s at the usual pickup time and Miles scampered down the sidewalk with a big smile on his face and practically jumped into my arms.

“Hi, Daddy! I had fun at school today. I hungry!” he said.

“Well, I guess we’re in business then.” I replied. “How about a cheeseburger?”

“Yes daddy! We ARE in biz-i-ness!!!” he said, saying the last word slowly while sizing it up.

(He does this with unfamiliar words all the time. It’s kind of hilarious.)

Anyway, you would not believe this was the same child that just a day ago threw an epic, threw-himself-on-the-floor, kicking-and-screaming tantrum when we picked out the wrong Justice League episode on Netflix.

He said hello to everyone in McDonald’s and went and sat down calmly in his seat. He ate about 90% of his cheeseburger and fries and all of his yogurt, then calmly asked to go play. No tantrums, no begging.

He played really nicely with the other kids, went all the way to the top of the playground set all by himself and didn’t even raise a ruckus when I told him it was time to go.

But the car ride on the way home was the best moment of my day, by far.

“Daddy,” Miles said from his car seat. “Can you hold my hand?”

So we drove all the way home with his hand in mine, my arm awkwardly bent around the back of the passenger seat, but I didn’t care.

It’s those little moments that make the roller coaster ride worth it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Get your car seats checked out

Ever since Miles was born, the car seat has been always been an issue.

Not for him. For me.

You see, the gosh-darned things are just so hard to install correctly. The guideline, they say, is no more than an inch of wiggle room side-to-side. I don’t know that I’ve ever been able to achieve that.

I mean, I’m a grown man, of not insubstantial size, and I’m literally standing in the back seat of the car, pulling those belts as tight as I can with all the strength I have. I’m also fairly intelligent, smart enough to read an owner’s manual and figure things like this out.

Still, it seems like it’s never quite tight enough.

So a few days before Owen was born, we took both our cars over to St. Mary’s for a car seat safety program they were putting on.

Thank goodness for these folks, who are certified by the National Standardized Child Passenger Safety Training Program. They are truly doing good work. A quick evaluation on both cars and they told me what I expected, that neither of Miles’ seats were as secure as they should have been.

They showed us how to make sure they were as tight as possible, which is not nearly as simple as it seems.

For example, we learned that the “LATCH system” belts we had been using to install Miles’ seat wasn’t adequate in either of our cars.

The LATCH system (standing for Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) came into being in the early part of the 2000’s and was supposed to be a universal, foolproof solution for installing car seats.

For newborns and infants, it does just that – for toddler-sized kids, it’s more of a hit-and-miss proposition and even something as insignificant as the shape of the seat back can mess everything up.

St. Mary’s registered nurse Terry Cooper showed us why the “latches” weren’t working for us and showed us how to secure the seatbelt in the more traditional way with the lap and shoulder belts, which in our specific case, proved to be a far safer and easier method.

I could go on a rant about how the car manufacturers and car seat manufacturers need to get their collective acts together and collaborate on a truly universal system for car seats, but if that hasn’t happened by now it’s probably not going to.

Instead, I will simply point out the importance of making sure your children’s car seats are 100% safely installed.

The good thing is, both Deaconess and St. Mary’s here in town have car seat safety programs. My guess is most hospitals have something similar in place.

If your car seat doesn’t seem quite secure enough, it probably isn’t. Make an appointment, and they will check everything out for you at no cost.

 

http://www.deaconess.com/TheWomensHospital/Wellness-and-Education/Pregnancy.aspx

http://www.stmarys.org/car-seat-safety