love

"The Shitty Stop Saloon"

Most guys talk about a man cave as a place to escape and relax while watching sports. When you have two children in diapers at the same time, you manage to get creative about what constitutes a man cave. And then a third one comes along, and your remember the joy of it.

In the unfinished basement of an 86 year old house, there’s a high efficiency washing machine with my name on it (figuratively, of course). There’s two or three sacks of “used” cloth diapers gathered about this marvel of modern technology and gloves reminiscent of Breaking Bad.

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On Wednesday and Sunday nights, I trod down the steps to tackle all manner of excrement from cloth diapers and two twin cat litter pans beneath our wooden stairs. Before I started, I'd pop open a beer, plug my iPhone into a stereo I saved and retro-fitted from my middle school years (yep, old), and set it to play what My Better Half lovingly refers to as “my old fart music” (she’s right). I throw three days worth of cloth diapers in the basin and get down to scrubbing.

So here at the Shitty Stop Saloon, I take 30 minutes of musical silence twice a week and find comfort in the ritual of dirty work that remains a part of staying committed to cloth diapering.

After four years of this lovely routine, two children potty trained, we decided to do it again (and by “we,” I mean My Better Half). Our third child arrived in May of 2017, and I’ve started to realize how much I love the ritual of cleaning as way to care for and think of our children. It’s odd in the smelliest sense (pun intended!) to appreciate the value of an awful task, but it helps me absorb the awful with greater appreciation for how important each job/role is in our life.

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Now in an even older house, we purchased a high efficiency laundry machines (this time the largest size they have for residential homes) as a Christmas present to ourselves and set to the work of making “The Shitty Stop Saloon Part Deuce” (get it? poop - #2).

Much like the first, I have the same stereo, plastic gloves (new gloves every month but same old style), and stacks of the same diapers that have covered the butts of all three of our children. However, technology and time have afforded us some upgrades like a curated play list, windows to the outside to air out the funk, and a steam setting that really blasts out the ick. In honor of the new space, my Better Half and two big kids made a sign to decorate the cave.

You’ll find me here every Wednesday and Sunday night cleaning the diapers for their next wear. Hopefully I only have one more year of this before potty training. Here’s hoping (not predicting) a less smelly future.

Full name added online only. We couldn’t bring ourselves to write expletives over the kids’ art. Parent-life.

Full name added online only. We couldn’t bring ourselves to write expletives over the kids’ art. Parent-life.

Third Time's the Charm

What counts as luck depends on what you're looking for…

My Better Half gave birth to our third child in May of 2017, so he's coming up on a year and a half on this earth as we roll through fall. He's about as close to perfectly adorable as one baby could ever be. He's generally happy and adored by his siblings; he loves social gatherings and being held by lots of friends. He goes by a lot of different nicknames based on his behaviors.

But he loves to wake up more often than our previous children and has less variety in his diet. He has not hit his speech and motor milestones at the same time and rate as our first two kids. So in many ways, our third child has held the mirror up to my face when it comes to my work. 

I work with a lot of people who work hard at improving their sleep or that of their loved ones.

I work with a lot of people who work hard at increasing the types of foods their loved ones eat.

I dispense a lot of advice and guidance around eating and sleep routines in my work, and the process of parenting our third child has been quite humbling and eye-opening. Put simply:

Sometimes the evidence does not work so well.

I have read (and re-read) the literature on sleep hygiene, and we consulted with our providers to put in place a well-organized evidence-based approach to increasing the variety in his diet.

And still every day feels the same.

This is all not to say to heck with science/medicine and to go rouge on reality because of it. But this is me acknowledging as a human who happens to be a psychologist that sometimes the ideas and the plans that derive from the scientific method don't apply equally well to all.

That is a sobering thought to hold. 

Our third child has given me a different type of appreciation for those who face these issues and deepened my empathy (and my resolve) for how stressful, challenging, and rewarding these things can be.

When I became a parent, I did not know that love could come in so many forms. The way I feel and I respond to each of our children is so different and implicit it defies the words I have here.

Our youngest is his own unique person - challenges, successes, personality, and all. The big kids often call him “Boss Baby” because he has a huge head on a small frame. And, because he wants what he wants when he wants it and he lets us all know it. So as luck would have it, his smile and his laughter are so infectious that our joy clearly continues to outweigh our work.

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Wind, Snow, Time, & Faith

These last two weeks (March 7 to 16) have been full of weather and safety-related concerns, and it's led me to take stock of what drives me these days and how I want to live my life now.

For those readers living outside the Rochester metropolitan area, we experienced a windstorm on March 7 that left over half of the region without power for days followed by a cold weather snap with daytime temps in the 20's. As many of the trees were cleared and power was mostly restored by the start of the next week, we were hit by Winter Storm Stella that dumped approximately two feet of snow in an on-going two day snow shower starting on March 14. 

I had a full caseload every day these last two weeks, but the windstorm and emerging snow storm prompted me to shuffle my schedule and cancel a full day of patients on March 15.

Now I'll be honest: I do not like it when anything prevents me from doing what I had planned. Yes: this is the pot calling the kettle black coming from this here clinical psychologist.

But the truth is I needed this dose of reality that was served up to me over the last two weeks.

It gave me a chance to meet people near us who took us in while our power was out.

It gave me a chance to be present for my daughter during and after outpatient eye surgery.

It gave me a chance to connect with people deeply because there was space and time for it.

I wish I could say that I’d never been here before
— Chris Stapleton, Fire Away

That's how I feel right about now as I realize I would've missed my daughter's surgery had the weather not laid to waste my plans to focus on my work instead. So many times before I've been so driven that I don't even see the road I'm driving the car of my life on. And for that, I feel compelled to reflect on how I can align my priorities more consistently with my values.

I had planned on my previous post (UnReal InstaLife) being the final one in a series about digital communication and re-framing our experience with it. After my daughter's surgery, I am reassessing how my digital existence impacts my reality as a parent, partner, and provider. I have such an intense, unrelenting desire to improve things that I very often forget to slow down, turn off the phone, and make the time to reflect rather than react to the moment I'm in.

So the weather gave me cause for pause and the opportunity to be present for my family, but another thought snuck in without my realizing it until the past weekend turned into this week.

When I think it could be therapeutically helpful and when I feel it logistically necessary, I have shared with my clients a bit about my personal life. Many folks know that My Better Half and I are expecting our third child in May and have showed such care and interest in her well-being. 

Knowing that my client's think and care about my family is something that moves me in a way I can't really describe in words, which is saying a lot given my predilection for hearing my own voice.

And on more than one occasion in the past two weeks, I've had clients look me in the face or tell me sincerely in writing that they have prayed for my wife's health and my daughter's. Now my faith is something I have generally regarded as a private matter, but the deep gratitude I feel toward my client's in sharing their faith with me has led me to re-examine mine in my work.

This then is a long-winded thank you to my clients, my family, my friends, and my community for calling my faith to mind during this unexpectedly trying month of March. So in the spirit of sharing more of myself, here is a picture of my family, in our comfy clothes, celebrating St. Patrick's Day by appreciating our warm home, our health, and some much needed time together.

Holidays on the Horizon

This is a time of year rife with responsibility and saturated with stress. A lot of folks feel like they have to be everywhere and do everything between Thanksgiving and the New Year.

I am not exempt from being stuck and spinning my wheels as December hurtles us forward through holiday get-togethers, work parties, and social obligations of every permutation.

In my personal experience (that sounds a lot more approachable than "in my clinical opinion," right?), taking a step back (however brief and small) is invaluable at this time of year. I'm not saying that this is the time to reorganize priorities, but I do think there are ways to trim the emotional fat so that you and your family can be well positioned to enjoy the holiday season.

Some recommendations that I've found to be useful:

1. Follow traditions that reduce (or don't add) stress. For me, this is cutting down Christmas trees from Wilbert's Tree Farm in Webster, NY. Yep, you caught that extra "s" on the end of the word tree. I loves me some indoor O' Tannenbaum all over the place. In the past, this excursion into my version of the wild has proven a tad stressful because I would try to do it with a manual saw while my Better Half played defense against the creatures we created (a.k.a. our wonderful children). I also tend to brazenly insist on finding the largest tree, which takes a lot of time and foraging. This year we invited our great family friends to go with us, we pre-gamed that business with breakfast at Mama Lor's, and then we got strategic whilst wielding my great friend's chain saw. We expanded our tradition - hello friends and breakfast! - while reducing the stress by having more hands to help corral cherubs and power tools. 

 

2. Surround yourself with people who make you feel good (or spend less time around those who don't). This is your life to live, and I think it's kind of cruddy to force ourselves to spend it around people who get us emotionally jacked up. Whether it's family, friends, or some combination thereof, I think we especially need to spend this time with people that get us. Even if we feel compelled to spend time around folks who do not necessarily lift us up, I still think it's incredibly important to make some time (after work, on the weekend beforehand) to see people we like, miss, and enjoy during the holiday season.

3. Prize experiences you can do with others over stuff. Easier said than done, but it matters. This idea is backed by research from Caprariello and Reis that suggests that, "Spending money to acquire experiences that are shared with others was valued over spending money on experiences enacted alone or on material possessions." The series of studies is nuanced and sophisticated, and I think a take-away could be that there's a lot of value in spending your money on experiences you enjoy doing with others rather than solo trips or just more stuff.

4. Eat well, drink less, sleep more. The holidays have their own gravitational pull, and we will likely enjoy them more when we make a conscious attempt at keeping ourselves healthy. If I had to pick one from this list of three, I would prioritize getting to bed earlier since this has a way of predicting and leading to late night snacking and over drinking. I feel like it's hard to sell people on the idea of eating well and drinking less on the holidays, but sleep is awesome.

One of the things my Better Half and I are trying to do to diminish stress is to go out to dinner before Christmas church services so that our Little People are fed beforehand and so that the Hunger Monster doesn't muck up our parent mojo. Building on a Christmas tradition from my Better Half's childhood, we're going to grab a pizza at Crust Pizza Kitchen before going to Christmas Eve Mass. It will be our second Christmas Eve at Crust, and their pizza is always a winner with the whole family. We're looking forward to it!

Seriously, look at that pizza.  Aren't you hungry?  I am.  

Seriously, look at that pizza.  Aren't you hungry?  I am.  

I'm on the news!

Each day during the "Week of Miracles," 13 WHAM News profiles a 2016 Golisano Children's Hospital Miracle Kid. Earlier this summer, I had the opportunity to talk with Norma Holland about my work with Fauna and her son Daniel. Their story aired on Wednesday, September 14: 

You can read more about the story here. I also previously wrote about my time with Fauna and Daniel in the BIFF clinic at URMC in my blog and on the website. The work Fauna and I did together is quite literally why I do what I do for a living. I would not be who I am if it were not for the amazing opportunities I have to work with families like them everyday.