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Welcome Dan Baron This month, we debut our new family life columnist, Dan Baron. Baron is a longtime Chicago writer and journalist. He spent most of his career working for nonprofits and most recently was a reporter and columnist for The Times of Northwest Indiana. He sees this column as a “chance to express the challenges, ups and downs of being a parent.” He lives in Chicago with his wife, Nancy, and daughters, Ally and Dina.
It's one of those run, run, run work days, I realize as I wake up and scramble to find my glasses in the dark.
That's when I hear Ally, my 7-month-old, stirring. She stops me with a smile, but I've barely started feeding her when the phone rings. It's Francie, who takes care of Ally and Dina, my 3½-year-old daughter, and has been an amazing source of stability and support for our family. Francie tells me she's sick and won't be here today.
As Ally squirms in my arms, my wife Nancy and I decide she'll stay with the kids in the morning and I'll take the afternoon.
We both kvetch for a moment about-what else?-work, but clearly not everyone in the house wants to hear us sing this familiar tune. Ally smiles at me, spits up on my shirt and legs, and waves her hands near my head, nearly poking me in the eye.
Ally and Dina don't actually throw my daybook out the window, but I get the point. I go to a meeting in the morning, but today, the only meetings that really matter will be the ones with my girls. Key items on the agenda? The old standbys: food, clothing, entertainment and sleep.
At noon, Ally and I pick up Dina at her preschool in Evanston. When we see her, she nearly knocks me over with a hug. As we drive home, I think about a truly pressing matter: lunch. Nancy and I are a little concerned that Dina-who has nonstop energy and is thin as a straw-doesn't eat enough. At home, I feed Ally, and Dina and I settle on one of her favorites, which she calls Daddy's bagel french toast. Despite high-level negotiations about how much syrup to pour on Dina's plate, she gobbles it up happily. Meanwhile, Ally enjoys the chicken-rice-vegetable mixture from a jar.
As I join them for lunch, I slow down a little and survey the scene. I work out of my home, but even when I'm there for lunch, I watch the clock, rushing through lunch or eating while working. Not today: My girls, bless them, just won't stand for that.
Still, as we finish, I feel the work world nudging me again, and I check the phone for messages. Dina, however, already is plotting. The three of us head to the living room, and she convinces me that we have to gather every pillow in our home right away so we can build a pillow fort. With Ally tracking our every move, Dina and I make “the best pillow fort ever in the history of the world.”
At this point, I figure I'll respond to a few e-mails while the kids play with each other. Dina, however, wants to play on the computer, where some of her favorite animated friends have second homes. With Dina on my lap, I am suddenly faced with one of the day's biggest questions: Can a busy parent afford to put work on hold while he and his daughter visit Dora and her friends on the Internet?
This time, I figure, work can wait. Dina and I find a game she loves, just as Ally gets a little restless. I change her, walk with her and give her a bottle, but my usually placid daughter is not easily calmed this time. She is growing rapidly and starting to teethe. Reading her cues is not always easy. Later, when she lifts a thumb to her mouth and fades to sleep, I'm cautiously hopeful and put her in her crib. Dina, whose sleep patterns I am more familiar with, also gets ready to nap, especially after I promise I'll make popcorn later in the day.
Suddenly, I can take a break. I scan the newspapers and clean the place a bit, then decide to answer a few e-mails. Before I get too settled in, though, I hear a familiar sound: I hear my girls stirring again.
When Ally and Dina wake up, I spread a blanket on the living room floor and we hang out together. I get a little jealous of Dina, who has no rival when it comes to making Ally giggle. Meanwhile, Ally has taken my eyeglasses off of my head. Maybe she's cleaning them, or changing the prescription; who knows, maybe it will be an improvement.
Moments later, I am surprised to hear the sound of a key in the door. It's Nancy, and she sees a picture of relative contentment, albeit one with countless toys and a mess of popcorn on the floor. I share a few quick highlights of the day with her; we swap ritual jokes about how good it will be to have Francie here again so we can get back to work.
Still, as I look at my girls, I am not really thinking about work at all; I am grateful to be with them. Now, I think, if I can only get my glasses back from Ally.
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