Tuesday, August 30, 2011

You’re one-year old now…time for some more shots!

I vividly remember being terrified of shots when I was growing up.  Seriously terrified. 

As a young child: Vaccination boosters? Nooooo, mommy, why are you doing this to me?  A little whooping cough never hurt anyone, has it?  None of my friends have ever had smallpox, so why do I need a shot against it? 

As a rambunctious teenager: Sure, I just stepped on a rusty nail that went all the way through my sandal and into my foot.  But please no Tetanus shots, that’d hurt too much!  I know you have to drill deep into my tooth to get at that cavity, but I’d rather deal with the pain than get a shot of Novocain in my gums.  As a high school football player, I had absolutely no problem banging my bare head against the metal locker to show the other kids how tough I was.  But, stick me with a TB shot?  Eeeekkkk!

Honestly, I have no idea why I have such an irrational fear of shots.  In reality, they never hurt that much.  But it seems as if this is a pretty general trend…people hate shots!  Maybe it’s some innate fear that we have embedded in our genes, like our fear of snakes and bad 1990s movies with Pauly Shore.  Maybe deep in our evolutionary subconscious, our fear is evoked by some ancient extinct needle-like predator of early humans that would dart out, inject us with a toxic serum that would digest us from the inside-out, and then use its capillary-like tongue to lap up our oozing juices.

Why all this talk of shots, you ask?  Well, Jack (and his parents) had a bit of a traumatic day yesterday.  The day after his first birthday—a great day with wonderful toys, his first ever cake, and playgrounds with splashy fountains—he had his one-year appointment at the pediatrician.  When Jack first met his pediatrician, she drew blood from his foot and cut the foreskin of his penis; not a very nice welcome into this world.  And every time he’s been to her office since, he gets stuck with a bunch of needles for his vaccinations! It’s a good thing his long-term memory hasn’t kicked in, or he’d start screaming the second he saw her.

The vaccination schedule is relentless.  MMR, Hep A, Hep B, Prevnar, DtaP, IPV/OPV, HIB. You down wit OPP? Yeah you know me.

Jack’s mom and I get more upset by the whole ordeal than he does.  First, he doesn’t know what’s coming to him, and after he gets stuck, he only cries for 30 seconds or so, and then seems to forget it. But, we’re traumatized for the rest of the day.  It’s so painful knowingly having your little baby hurt, especially when he has a fever or some other reaction afterwards. 

This got me thinking of the whole ‘controversy’ surrounding vaccinations.  For example, Whooping cough is making a comeback in California. WTF, seriously?  Whooping cough?  This isn’t 1700s London.  We’re talking northern California, bastions of good wine, good food, beautiful scenery, cultural enlightenment….Seriously, check out this article from this past weekend’s newspaper in Santa Cruz, CA.    And measles are taking off in Europe.  Who gets measles anymore? 
Honestly, being a scientist, I never really understood the controversy behind vaccinations; they are important for the health of society (herd health, they call it) and have minimal risks.  Remember the other day when I was talking about how Google has changed the way we do research?  Do a Google search on Vaccinations.  Go ahead, I’ll wait here for you…  Did you do it?  You’ll see that out of the first 10 entries—the ones with the highest Pagerank—most of them discuss vaccinations as a controversy.  Several of them suggest that they’re giving equal discussion to both sides of the controversy, and 2 of them are completely against vaccinations.  Now, go over to Google Scholar and do the same thing (Google scholar is where most of the scientific articles are).  You won’t find more than 1 in a 100 studies that finds any significant negative associations with vaccines.  Now don’t get me wrong, big pharmaceutical companies are certainly out to make a buck, and they have to be regulated.  And science isn’t infallible, nor are scientists (and those who want to profit from science) always right.  But I do find it fascinating how different the ‘public’ perspective on science is relative to the science itself. 

One of the most well-known ‘controversies’ surrounding vaccinations is that of the link between vaccinations and autism.  This appears to have been sparked when a paper published in an important medical journal in 1998 suggested a link between autism and the MMR vaccination.  Turns out this study was immediately discredited, the author was accused of scientific misconduct, most of the authors of the paper retracted their names from the study.  And since, dozens of much more carefully designed studies have found no evidence whatsoever of a link between autism and vaccinations.  But the idea just won’t go away.  For a great overview of the science and public perception of the link between vaccinations and autism, check out this article from PloS Biology (it's freely available and easy to read).

But let’s put my scientist hat down for a minute.  Now that I’m a parent, I get why vaccinations and other medical treatments are scary and even why they are controversial.  Although the risks are minimal, there are risks.  And, our little baby has to feel instantaneous pain, and then gets sick for awhile afterwards.  As parents, our primary mission in life is to protect our children, no matter what.  While vaccines might do that in the long-term, in the short-term, they are scary.  And, God forbid, what if your child does have a serious reaction to the vaccine, or develop a neurological disorder like autism, regardless of the cause?  I can only imagine the heartache and pain that any parent dealing with this must go through.  I’d want to lash out, I’d want to blame the pharmaceutical companies.

In the end, our poor little baby ended up with 4 shots--two in each arm, covered with two Mickey Mouse Band-Aids.  He screamed bloody murder for about 20 seconds, nursed, went home, took an extra long nap, and woke up just fine.  We truly believe that vaccinations are extremely important, will follow the recommendations of the doctors, and will of course advocate that everyone else do the same.  But this parenting thing has really opened my eyes.  A dogmatic perspective on science is easily trumped by my unconditional love and desire to protect this helpless baby—and a continued irrational fear of shots.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Letter to my son on his first birthday

Today is Jack’s first birthday, and so I’m going to write him a letter. So this post is more for him and me than for all of you out there in the blogosphere.  But Jack and I would be delighted if you’re interested in reading it as well.  At least I hope Jack doesn’t mind everyone else reading his letter.  He’s a bit too young to protest now, but I can imagine a 16 year-old Jack surfing the web with his friends when they stumble the archives of this blog.  Kind of like when we were kids and your mom would pull out the old photos of you and your brother in the bath together when your football buddies came over to the house.  Or, when she showed photos from the time you got dressed up in women’s clothing, makeup and high heels to your homecoming date.  Not cool, Mom, not cool.

This letter comes a bit later than it was supposed to, and I have to give credit before I get started; writing a letter to Jack wasn’t my idea initially.  Jack’s mom has been suggesting that I write a letter to him for almost a year now—a sweet letter from father to son when he was born and how he’s affected my life.  You see, she’s always been great at dealing with ‘life’ stuff.  Calling friends/relatives on birthdays, buying holiday gifts, doing the shopping and laundry.  Not that I didn’t want to be thoughtful…I just usually forgot. Too much to do, I thought. I’m too busy, I don’t need to grow up, I’m a scientist, dammit!  Well, being a SAHD for the past couple of months has made me start to grow up fast!  Cook dinner, wash the diapers, clean the house, feed the baby, go shopping, fix up things around the house.  Mind you, I really suck at most of these things, but I’m trying!

When I do get it in my mind to do something, I take it to the extreme—hence an entire blog about the baby and fatherhood rather than a simple letter.  And now, rather than writing just a letter to the 1 year-old Jack, I figured I’d go ahead and get a few other letters done as well.  So, we’ll go in 5-year increments, and write letters to the 1, 6, 11, 16, and 21 year old Jack.  Here goes:


Dear Jack,

Today is your first birthday and I wanted to take this moment to reflect on what having you in my life has meant to me.  To be honest, I was terrified to have a baby.  There was no time for anything other than work; what was a baby going to do to my career?  Well, life has a funny way of throwing curve balls.  First, after you came into my life, all that career stuff didn’t really seem as important as it did before.  I used to scoff at people who only worked 9-5, but once you were here, 9-5 seemed like an eternity.  So what if there’s more data to collect, when there’s baby to cuddle with at home.  Second, some rather unfortunate circumstances lost me the job I’d been so driven to succeed in.  Sure, I was sad, but spending the time with you at home has made me realize how much more important you are than pretty much everything else.  The next phase of our lives is going to see lots of change and there are many unknowns.  But as long as we have each other and your mom, that’s all we need. 

I love you so much little baby….and I’m so glad you’re in my life.

Happy Birthday, Love Dad


Dear Jackie,

I can’t believe you’re 6-years old already.  Where has the time gone?  It seems like just yesterday you were learning how to walk, and now you’re starting first grade. My job working from home has given me the most amazing opportunity to see you grow into a wonderful little boy.  I’m so glad that I’ve gotten to spend so much time with you these past few years, and I’m going to miss you so much during the school day while I’m still at home doing my work and hanging out with your little sister.  And that month-long trip that your mom took us on to India this summer was amazing!  I know you’re going to have a great time in Mrs. Jones’ class, and it’s great you get to be in the same class with Aiden.  Don’t forget to use your iPad to Tweet to your class that I’m coming into class this afternoon with the healthy carrot-apple cupcakes that your mom made last night.   
Happy birthday Jack, I hope all of your wishes come true.

Love, Dad


Dear Jacko,     

Wow, you’re 11!  I’m sorry your team lost in the finals, but I’m so proud that you made the all-star team.  23 strike outs in a row, you were awesome!  It was so wonderful that you volunteered with your mom in the city this summer.  I can’t believe what a great young person you’ve grown into. And, our bike trip through the Rockies was so killer!  Now you’re off to 6th grade—middle school. It’ll be a great adventure, but make sure you do your homework and deposit it on your teacher’s Facebook account before you run off to 2nd life to pretend play in the park with your friends in Paraguay.

Your mom and I are so proud of you and love you so much, have a happy birthday!
Love, Dad


Hey Jack-Dude,
Sweet 16 and never been kissed!  That’s what my grandma said to me on my 16th, and it was true. But not you, Jackie boy!  I know you’re popular with the ladies, and already have pro scouts looking at your quarterbacking skills.  Only a sophomore, but the starter of the varsity team.  Please remember to keep up with your studies too…your grades slipped at the end of last year and you got your first 99%.  Sure, a football scholarship will get you into most schools, but you need to fall back on academics.  Your work in theoretical physics is going really well, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the folks at NASA give you a signing bonus if you skip college football and move right into space-time travel.

You’ve become an amazing young man, and your mom and I can’t wait to see you when you get back from your trip to Cuba re-building homes that were damaged in the Hurricane.

Happy B-day Dude, I love you,


Yo Jack-man-do,

Twenty-one and already a college graduate!  Valedictorian and captain of the football team.  I have no idea where you also found the time to help repair political ties with China and develop next generation clean fuels that not only power our flying cars but also produces pure fresh drinking water with a hint of lemon zest.  A finalist for both the Nobel Peace Prize and the Nobel Prize for science in the same year; unheard of.  And yet, you still had time to hang out with your family in our cottage on the lake this summer.  It was so great to get to spend so much time with you.  You’ve turned into such great man, and we’re so proud of you. 

Have a great birthday, but don’t get too sh*#-faced now that you can legally drink.  You have an important meeting tomorrow morning with the president.

Love, Dad

Friday, August 26, 2011

Aww…look, our quadruped is becoming a biped! Or, look who’s walking now!

Every parent wants their kid to achieve the ‘milestones’.  We put so much pressure on them.  “Does he hold his head up yet?”; “Can she roll over yet?”; “Does he crawl?”; “Does she walk?”; “Does he talk?”  “Is she potty trained?” “Does he have a diversified portfolio and an IRA?” 

But walking—that transition from 4 legs to 2 legs—seems to be one of the biggest milestones of early childhood.  When we make that symbolic transition from the animal world to the human world. 

Turns out that other than birds and dinosaurs, there are very few groups of vertebrates that habitually walk on two legs instead of four.  Kangaroos, some groups of mice and rats, and people.  And several other groups will walk on two legs when they really need to, like deer reaching up high for a branch that’s too high or lizards running on water

So, why have we eschewed the 4-legged world for two?  There are many dozens of theories in the evolutionary literature for why humans have moved more and more towards two-legged walking even though our very closely related cousins still prefer all fours—the Wikipedia entry on the matter is surprisingly thorough!. These theories range from the
aquatic ape hypothesis’, whereby our ancestors were adept waders and swimmers and this lead to our bipedalism to keep our heads above water (this hypothesis appears to be believed by about 4 people) to other more well-accepted theories, including the ‘male provisioning hypothesis’.  Here, the idea is that a good man goes out to hunt or gather, gets as much food as he can, and has to carry it all the way back to where his wife and kids are chilling out.  Remember, this is before the dawn of backpacks and wheeled luggage—and certainly before the time of the stay-at-home-dad.  So, these dudes had to carry the food home either in their hands or in their mouths.  Well, if you’ve ever tried to carry a big load of stuff around with you in your mouth or while crawling around on all fours, you’ll see the problem.  Much better to hold it and walk on your hind limbs—or legs.  So, there you have it, a pretty good reason to walk on two legs.  To bring home the bacon (so to speak).

Jack’s always been a bit ahead on his milestones, and we’re always so proud…as if somehow he’s smarter and more talented than the kids down the street.  “Hmmmm..little Joey doesn’t crawl yet?  What a shame…Might as well forget about college”.  Jack was well into standing and ‘cruising’ along on furniture at 8 months, and we thought he was going to take off walking soon thereafter.  His mom, after all, was walking at 9 months. 

So, 9 months comes and goes…still no walking.

10 months….lots more cruising, but still not walking.  Uh oh, maybe he’s not as exceptional as we thought?

11 months.  Now Jack’s getting very interactive with the world around him.  Much less a blob and much more a little boy.  He’s got toys, he’s able to drink from a sippy cup, he’s got his snacks!  But, he’s got to crawl around with them, which sucks if you want to be in the other room where your dad is doing cool stuff (like washing the dishes), but you want to bring your toys and snacks and sippy-cup with you. 

So, here’s where I think I can really see the merit in the idea that we walk on two legs because we need to get stuff from here to there.  Sure, he’d crawl around with a toy in his mouth or hand…and it was cute, but very inefficient.  I think he’s been thinking: “if I have stuff in two hands, I can bring twice as much stuff into the kitchen to play with/eat/drink”. 

Over the past few weeks, Jack’s determination to learn how to walk—so he can take stuff with him—has been amazing.  From one or two tentative steps to full blown walking around the house in just a couple of weeks.  If you have a minute, check out the videos taken of him every 4-5 days for the past few weeks.

He’s mastered it!  Now he can carry his stacking cups around the house; Now he can carry his baby cheetos around the house; Now he is a man!

So, there you have it….watching Jack learn to walk has given me definitive proof that humans have evolved bipedalism in order to get their stuff more easily from point A to point B.  Class dismissed.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Top 10 Things I Never Thought I’d Do Until I Had a Baby

Jack’s first birthday is just a few days away, so I figured I’d take a bit of stock into what I thought I’d never do if/when I had kids that are now everyday occurrences.  And, just for fun, let’s do it David Letterman-style, counting backwards.  You know, Letterman--he’s what all us cool kids watched at Midnight when I was in college…now I’m lucky to make it past 9:15 watching DVR’d Daily Shows without falling asleep on the couch. 

Hmmm….this has me wondering: what are all the cool kids in college watching at midnight nowadays, anyway?  Let’s go check over on Google and see what’s hot … OK, here it is, according to collegehumor.com, it looks like the college kids today like to watch other kids slap each other in the face with pizza. 

I’m so old.

Well, obviously, that quadruple shot of espresso I just had after I put Jack down for his afternoon nap is kicking in.  So, let’s get going.  Here is the top 10 list of things I never thought I’d do until I had a baby:

10. Direct 95% of the conversation to be about the baby. Some examples include: “you should have seen what Jack did today, it was so cute.”; “This guacamole is good.  Speaking of which, did you know that Jack’s favorite food is avocado?”; “When taking the derivative of the xth integer, using a Taylor- series expansion, we can most inevitably see that Jack’s ability to walk has increased to the ¾ power over the past 4 days, supporting the general theory of network allometry.”

9. Use my saliva to clean off the baby’s face. Yes, I know, this is an old stand-by, especially for moms, but seriously, it’s kinda nasty when you really think about it.

8. Talk about the baby every chance I get.  Wait, did I already use this one?  I like to talk about the baby.  Guess what he was doing this morning while we were at the post-office…Oh, whoops, sorry, I’ll move on.

7. Be excited when I get to hold another baby.  I think I can count the number of babies on one hand that I held before we had Jack.  And, all I can remember was being terrified and wanting to hand it back over asap.  Now I love holding babies…even the ugly ones!

6. Feel well-rested when I get more than 6 hours of sleep at night.  Did I ever mention that Jack is a terrible sleeper?

5. Have no qualms about rubbing anti-fungal cream and lotion onto someone else’s penis on a daily basis.  Yeah, ‘nough said.

4. Experience depths of unconditional love that grow exponentially every day.  If you think that’s sappy, check out one of my first posts on this blog from a few weeks ago.

3.  Stick my hand inside a diaper to see if there was poop.  Yes, gross…but, in fact, I just did while putting Jack down for a nap a little while ago.  You see, we just got back from running errands, and he was wiped out.  I didn’t want to have to change him and get him all riled up unless he pooped.  And, he was laying there half-asleep, so, well… You know, let’s just forget that I told you about this one. 

2. Have no jealously whatsoever by all of the attention another male is giving to my wife’s breasts.

And, the number one thing I thought I’d never do until I had a baby is…..

1. Be-out-of-work—the career I’ve worked incessantly in for 20 years—but wake up every day feeling lucky to be able to spend the whole day with my wonderful son and excited to blog to the world (or at least about 20-30 of you) about how awesome he is.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Baby Logic and the Theory of Gravity

In the philosophy of science, Karl Popper is often attributed to being a champion of the hypothetico-deductive method of scientific reasoning.  The method goes something like this:

  • Develop a null hypothesis which suggests that an action will result in no reaction
  • Develop a series of alternative hypotheses which suggest that something specific will happen as a result of the action taken
  • Test those hypotheses by taking an action
  • Revise those hypotheses based upon the results
  • Lather, rinse, and repeat the experiment
But, really, isn’t this pretty much how we live our lives?  Sure, we don’t run around discussing our rejected hypotheses, but when you think about it, we live our lives doing little science experiments all the time.  Modifying recipes: “I can replace the baking powder in this cake recipe with baking soda, right?”; Interacting with your spouse: “You don’t mind if I skip our anniversary to watch the playoffs with the boys do you?”; Raising your baby: “If you whine and I give you what you want, you’ll stop whining, won’t you?”  Each of these scenarios is a hypothesis with an associated null hypothesis that you test and continually refine.  So, we’re all Popperians, right?  Seems kinda obvious when you really think about it.

Watching Jack develop from a helpless baby into a budding toddler makes it so clear how we live our lives according to the basic tenants of scientific philosophy.  The difference is that babies are discovering things that us adults already know, whereas adult scientists are trying to discover things we don’t yet know. But no question about it, babies are behaving in the exact way scientists do.  And, if you’ve ever known a scientist, you’ll also know that scientists often act in the exact way that babies do.

Here’s an example of one of Jack’s ongoing experiments:

If I touch this button, the Elmo phone will say “la la la la, la la la la…Elmo’s phone”.  If I touch it again, it will say “la la la la, la la la la…Elmo’s phone”.  And, again “la la la la, la la la la…Elmo’s phone”. “la la la la, la la la la…Elmo’s phone”;“la la la la, la la la la…Elmo’s phone”; “la la la la, la la la la…Elmo’s phone”. 

Any good scientist will tell you an experiment is no good if the results are not repeatable, but I sure hope the battery on that thing runs out soon…. 

But there’s another perspective on the philosophy of science that many scientists believe is more creative, is more general, and has the ability to provide bigger and better advances than the simple method described above.  Thomas Kuhn’s “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions”.  If you’re a Kuhnian, you’re a bit more of a risk-taker.  You think science progresses by leaps and bounds rather than simple linear progression.  You think objectivity limits the potential of scientific progression.
I think Jack is more Kuhn than Popper in his approach to the science of life.  In the way he learns how to interact with and manipulate his surroundings.  For example, lately, Jack has been experimenting with gravity.  We all know about gravity, Newton and the apple…and to show my age again, this is how folks in my generation learned about gravity

9.8 meters per second per second acceleration. Or, when translated into baby-talk, “fall and go boom”.  But, just as Einstein and his compatriots took Newtonian science and put it on its ear, Jack’s experiments with gravity are taking him to great new places.

You see, a few months ago, Jack learned how to climb stairs. But he couldn’t go down.  He figured if he went head first up, why not go head first down?  Well, that hypothesis got falsified pretty quickly.  From his results, he developed a new hypothesis: “If I go down head first, I get a scraped up face” which he also tested a few times.

A month or two later, with the help of his scientific mentors (parents), he learned that going down stairs is much more effective if you do it backwards.

OK, now he has this new concept: "By going backwards, I can go down things and not get hurt."  He’s been testing this hypothesis a lot on stairs and slides, but like any good follower of Kuhn, Jack’s not happy just testing and re-testing hypotheses in a linear way.  He wants to apply this ‘backwards’ concept to other contexts where gravity is involved.

So, yesterday, we’re at the playground and Jack sees an opportunity to take his science to the next level.  You see, he’s been working on some equations with the help of his mom to explore this gravity thing.  By incorporating relativity with string theory and worm-holes, he’s deduced that going backwards eliminates the pull of gravity.  But, you can only test this theory on stairs and slides for so long.  Scientific revolutions require bold ‘outside-the-box’ thinking.

I know, I know.  The coolest playgrounds always say that they’re designed for children 5-12 years old.  But, there’s no where else for a toddler to play around here.  And they have great stuff to climb on and have that cool rubberized ground to run around on.  So where else can a stay-at-home dad (SAHD) go when his son really needs to get out of the house?

So we’re at the playground and Jack sees the opportunity to test his ‘backwards gravity’ theory.

He approaches, redoes his calculations to adjust for wind-speed….

Moves himself into position.

And slowly makes the backwards descent....



He went down and did not fall and hurt himself. His theory worked!  So, while according to those boring linear Popperians who can only falsify hypotheses, not prove them, he is feeling rather confident in his theory, and is looking for new venues in which to take his backwards/wormhole/relativity/string theory of gravity to the next level.

Any advice would be more than welcome...and perhaps some ideas where we can find some grant funding for this project.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The 5-Second Rule Does Not Apply to Babies

C’mon, admit it.  If no ones watching and you drop some food on the floor, I bet you eat it, don’t you?  Maybe brush it off or blow on it, or even rinse it in the sink. But, you eat it.  And, if it’s a particularly yummy piece of food and someone does happen to be watching, you always have the immunity provided to you by the ‘5-second rule’ (unfortunately, a recent study on the 5-second rule and lots of nerdy scientists tell us that it's not a very good rule). 

So, how many of you out there who’ve raised kids have adhered to the 5-second rule for the kids?  No lying here, I mean it, answer truthfully.  I guarantee you that even the most germophobic parents (think Jack Nicholson’s character in ‘As Good as it Gets’) let their babies eat food off the ground on occasion.  But, you’d never really admit it, would you?  

Sure, when they’re babies, we coddle them so much.  Can’t let any germs get near them!  Sterilize everything, pacifiers, bottles, toys, etc.  Can’t have too much hand sanitizer around the baby, wash your hands before touching them, etcetera, etcetera.  But somewhere along the way, sterile procedures sort of go out the window.  Sometimes it’s with the second or third kid.  Sometimes it’s when they grow into toddlerhood and there’s simply no avoiding them putting anything not nailed down into their mouths.

With Jack, I am somewhat reluctant to admit that we let the microbes intermingle rather early in his life.  I like to think he’s stronger and more fit because of it. A pacifier on the floor?  Ah, that’s just more immunity for the baby.  Licking the handrail at the busy airport…that’s ok, right?  How old do you suppose that ant-covered fruit loop that he just ate  under the park bench is, anyway?

Being scientists, we knew that 99.9% of microbes in the environment are harmless, and many can actually be beneficial.   In fact, there’s a huge scientific endeavor afoot, spending millions of research dollars to explore just which and how many of those critters we have living on and in us (see the Human Microbiome project), as well as the positive and negative effects they have on us.  Some of the more interesting results from this research suggest that the bacteria found in our guts can actually influence whether we’re skinny or fat (I’m still trying to figure out a way to market this—my latest slogan: “Poop your way to a thinner you” doesn’t quite seem to work).  How do you get these bacteria in your gut you ask?  Well, from your mom of course, and others you live closely with...and, no, you don’t really want to know how it gets from their guts to yours.
Anyone who’s ever been near a baby or toddler knows that anything on the floor goes right into their mouths along with the millions of microbes on that object. Toys, keys, iPhones, whatever.  Heck, we were at the Children's zoo the other day and Jack grabbed some goat poop in the petting area…and, well, you get the picture. The hand sanitizer that they had provided for kids to wash the goat microbes off didn’t really seem all that relevant for our particular situation.
So, if the baby is allowed to put everything else in his mouth that was on the floor, isn’t it OK if the baby also puts food in his mouth from the floor?  We all know they do it all the time, so why are we embarrassed by it?  Why do we hide our behavior from other parents and our friends? Why don’t we just embrace it? 

"Snack Trap"
The ground is the natural foraging habitat of a toddler. They sit there on the ground playing with their toys and you hand them their favorite snack (see yesterday’s post to see exactly what the best snack ever is). What are they going to do with it?  Throw it on the ground and then eat at their leisure, of course.  Sure, some parents try bowls and plates and other 'civilized' things--they even make all sorts of contraptions like the ‘snack trap’ that someone got us at one of our baby showers.  But the kids don’t eat it out of the bowl or trap.  They toss it on the ground, play with it, and then eat it...

I say we should shed our inhibitions and let the toddlers eat from the floor without shame. That’s what we do at home.  So, I’m going to come out here start an advocacy group to abolish the 5-second rule for toddlers. No need to hide anymore.  Let’s cut out the middle-man and simply put the food right on the ground for the kid to eat. 

So, you heard it here first.  No more shame in babies eating from the floor.  I’m going to call the group: “Babies Are Certainly Tolerant of Eating Right on Interior floors and Asphalt” (B.A.C.T.E.R.I.A.).  Look for our lobbyists in DC to play a big role in the next election!

And finally, one of my my all-time-favorite Homer Simpson lines seems to be a fitting end to this post.

"mmmm......Floor Pie"

(Disclaimer: You might want to avoid putting the food right on the dirt, and limit it to hardwood and tile floors indoors, and cement and asphalt outside.  And, as we discovered this morning, yogurt and macaroni and cheese are probably not good floor food.  And, well, maybe you can keep using high chairs for meal times and in restaurants.  And, those of you with dogs might have a battle on your hands, but I’m sure you’ll figure it out)

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Science of Baby Snacks

As Jack's moving away from baby-dom and into toddlerhood, his eating habits are changing.  He loves snacks!  He’s now able to let us know when he wants said snacks with a wonderful combination of cuteness and annoying whining.  He’ll grab a bag of snacks out of his diaper bag or on the counter, and bring them over to us letting us know he’s hungry.  Or, he’ll just sit there and whine until we figure out what he wants.  He’s recently perfected the ‘pincher’ grab, which allows him much more freedom in picking up those snacks between his thumb and fingers, and putting them into his mouth.  Before, it was sort of a full-hand grab and stuff, and he could really only grab big things. The pincher grab opens up a world of snacking opportunities, and boy does Jack love it!  So, we’re experimenting with different sorts of snacks and trying to pay attention to their nutritional quality. 

Most of you probably know that the all-time favorite most popular toddler snack seems to be Cheerios, followed closely behind by Goldfish (they even make whole-grain Goldfish now, so that’s good!).  At least that’s what 95% of the toddlers we see in the park are snacking on.  But Gerber (a subsidiary of Nestle), and maker of all things baby food, is really trying to grab a piece of the toddler-snack market.  Perusing through the baby isle at the grocery store, we see all of these lovely types of snacks produced by Gerber promoting “Start Healthy, Stay Healthy” and “Supports Healthy Growth and Development”.  Sweet, we thought.  Healthy snacks!  Well, don’t look too closely at the ingredients.  For example, the ‘Yogurt Melts’ look healthy, but have sugar as the second ingredient, and the ‘Lil Crunchies’ have 50 mg of Sodium per serving!  

Gerber’s snacks tell us right on the box, “as your baby grows into toddlerhood, about 25% of his calories will come from snacks”.  So, what are we going to do, we’re stuck with these sugary, salty snacks.  That’s all there is, right?  How do we raise a healthy, good-eating baby, and where can we find good snacks that he likes.  Well, we’ve been testing out various snacks, and conducting scientific studies (we are scientists after all), and here’s what we’ve concluded:

We started by exploring all of the various snacks on the market; those made exclusively for babies (mostly Gerber and the organic/hip baby-food companies trying to chip away at that market) and those more traditional snacky foods (e.g., Cheerios).  Before Jack even got the opportunity to lend his opinion, we eliminated most of the really nasty sugary and salty things.  One snack I’m ashamed to admit we tried was Gerber’s ‘meat sticks’.  Yep, seriously….these little sticks of meat stored in a congealed oily substance the consistency of snot. Grabbing them out of the snot felt more like baiting a fishing hook than feeding a baby, and thankfully, Jack hated them, so we never have to buy them again.

From an array of snacks, Jack’s top four favorites seemed to be: Cheerios, Goldfish, Gerber Graduates ‘Lil Crunchers’ (Garden Tomato version)—which I’ll hereafter refer to as ‘Baby Cheetos’ (which is what they look, smell and taste like), and a darkhorse challenger ‘Just Peas’ freeze-dried peas (seriously, he loves them! And so does his mom) that we found in the produce aisle at Whole Foods. 

Weeks of preliminary data suggested that while Goldfish and Cheerios make great snacks, especially when on the go, the Baby Cheetos and Just Peas seem to be the two favorites.  Today, I decided to do the definitive test to see which was the best baby snack: 

In this corner, we have the good-for-you-wholesome snacks made with pure peas, and nothing else.  No Genetic modifications and Organic--which is good because we don’t want Jack to become a mutant and grow a tail or destroy the city with his fire breath!  Just Peas….yaaahhhahhahhh

And, in this corner, we have the cheesy, salty goodness of mass-produced, melt-in-your-mouth, genetically modified corn and salt.  Boooooooo…..

(as an aside, any of you familiar with experimental design for diet choice will quickly recognize that an experiment replicated, no matter how many times, on only one baby is limited.  But, because Jack is the best baby in the world, I feel justified in claiming that whichever snack is favored is by definition the best baby-snack in the world).

We start with a warm-up of some baby-food from a jar, just to take the edge of hunger off, to cleanse the palette, and then get down to some real snacking.

Feeding Trial #1.  An equal volume of Baby Cheetos and Just Peas were put on each side of the tray and the baby was watched to observe preference and record any other behavior.

Winner, Just Peas

Feeding Trial # 2.  Same as above, but the locations of the snacks were switched to make sure there wasn’t any favoritism for right or left side.

Winner, Baby Cheetos

And, this was repeated 8 more times. 

Below are images from one such feeding trial where the results were rather easily discerned:

2 seconds into the trial

5 seconds into the trial

20 seconds into trial
The final tally was 2 for Just Peas, 8 for Baby Cheetos.  Using a standard Chi-square test (with an null expectation of equal preference), we get a chi-squared value of 3.6 with 1 degree of freedom, indicating that there is a 95% probability that Jack—and thus all snacking babies—significantly prefer Baby Cheetos over Just Peas.  So, there you have it.  Forget organic hippie foods, and put all your money in Corn futures and Nestle stock…this is gonna be big! 

With any scientific study, it is the prerogative of the author to speculate a bit why as to why the observed results may have occurred.  In this case, why do babies prefer the salty corny goodness of processed food over the plain and boring freeze-dried peas?  I think it’s an innate behavior preserved in our genetic material over the ages.  It’s evolution, plain and simple.  Human and CheetoWe’ve co-evolved with these cheesy snacks for millennia.  From the first humans hunting cheesy snacks on the African Savannah to modern times.  Using both fossil and genetic evidence, I’ve depicted how this long-standing relationship betwen hunter and hunted likely looked in the below illustration.  

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Traveling Coast-to-Coast with Mr. Barfo and the Baby-Backpack

As I’ve mentioned previously, our family tries hard to live a sustainablitarian life-style.  You know, eat/shop locally, walk instead of drive, recycle, use cloth diapers, etc.  Unfortunately, one part of our lives has had a huge non-sustainablitarian aspect: airline travel.  If you go onto any of the websites that help you calculate your carbon footprint (for example, the Nature Conservancy has a good one), you’ll quickly see that no matter how insulated your house is or how little you drive, if you fly a lot, your carbon footprint will go through the roof. 

Not even a year-old yet, and Jack has a huge carbon footprint!  He’s not yet traveled internationally (though that’s been discussed), but he’s probably been on a plane at least once a month since he was 4 months old (sometimes 2-3 times a month).  He’s been to California, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Illinois, Missouri, Michigan, Minnesota, Georgia, New York, Florida and New Jersey so far (several of those places, more than once), and that doesn’t count the 6 other states he visited while he was in the womb. So, we’re well-seasoned baby-travelers.  

West Coast Baby

East Coast Baby

When we traveled before Jack came into our lives, it used to be us, our laptops, and some clothes—no need for bag checking and a zip through the airport in no time.  Now that Jack’s in our lives, the stuff that we have to take along with us has more than quadrupled:  a bunch of cloth diapers, baby food, utensils, Jack’s clothes, a car seat, and tons of other random stuff.  But I believe we travel much better with a baby than most, and I’ll now share two of our secrets:

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Raising a Baby in the Age of Google

We were watching the Colbert Report the other day, and he did a story on how the internet was changing the way we remember things.  You see, there’s no point in remembering stuff that we know we can find again on the web.  Makes sense, our brains don’t need to be filled with all of that useless knowledge anymore and they can focus on more important things….like, well…you know, stuff.  Google is always there; even when on the road, as long as you can get 3G.

Before Google…heck even before the ancient outdated thing called Yahoo, there were these things called ‘books’ (kinda like e-books, but they’re printed on this weird tree-derived parchment).  I was 10 when my younger brother was born, and so I got to see a tiny bit of what it was like to raise a baby.  My mom swore by Dr. Spock’s ‘Baby and Child Care’.  It was a classic dog-eared copy that she had when she raised me.  In fact, Dr. Spock’s book was first published in 1946 and has eight editions, the last of which was published in 2004.  It was the ‘baby raising bible’ to generations of parents.  Has anyone under 35 even heard of Dr. Spock?  And, no, not that dude with the pointy ears on Star Trek, which is what I thought when I was 10.  How could a Vulcan know how to raise human babies, anyhow?  They have no emotions.

Nowadays, there are other books that seem to be quite popular amongst the parents.  Our favorites are the ‘What to Expect’ books (What to Expect When You’re Expecting; What to Expect the First Year; etc). They’re great for those of us from the MTV generation who need our information presented in quick and manageable nuggets.  But 9 times out of 10, whenever I have a question about the baby, I go first to the source of all knowledge.  The knower of all that is known.  The almighty Google!

Take this morning, for instance.  Jack is almost one year-old, and one happens to be the age that magical things instantaneously happen.  All of a sudden, they can drink cow’s milk.  Now their carseat can be turned to face forward.  They can eat eggs.  We got to thinking: "why couldn’t he have eggs before?"  We vaguely remember our pediatrician saying something about egg whites being the problem.  We were actually making egg whites for breakfast (it’s healthier for us), so could we make up the yolks for him? He’s supposed to be eating all of this good fat anyway for his brain and nerve development (at least that's what Google told me).  

Friday, August 19, 2011

Our First Playdate is Today!!

As I’ve mentioned here before, I’ve always been a very one-dimensional person.  From the time I was 20, it was all about work.  Driven by a single goal to be the best.  No time for vacations.  No time for goofing off.  No time for friends, unless of course, they’re work ‘friends’.  Gotta work.  Why?  I dunno, because that’s what I do.  That’s who I am.  So, who am I now that I don’t work and I’m a stay-at-home dad (SAHD) to Jack?  Well, I guess that’s what I’m trying to figure out...

Although we’ve lived in this town for many years, all of our friends are work friends.  And, now that I’m not working, those friends are mostly gone.  People move around in our field.  A few years in undergraduate, then move.  Off to graduate school.  Move again.  Do a postdoc or two, move a couple more times.  Start a job, move again.  Get a better job, move again.  California, Florida, Montana, Hawaii, Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Utah…where am I from, anyway?  It’s easy to not make deep friendships or keep up with your family with this lifestyle. 

I used to scoff at people who never really moved.  Stayed within miles of where they grew up, hung out with their high school friends, had dinner several times a week with their parents and other family.  Those people weren’t serious about their careers, I thought.  How can you find family and friends more important than work?  Work is life, and you have to live where the work is best.  What a fool I was!  Now that Jack’s in our lives, my wife and I look at people who live in the same town with their families with envy.  How I wish we could just hang out with parents, brothers, nephews, aunts, cousins without taking a plane.  Friends outside of work?  How do you even go about meeting them?  Well, I guess you would meet folks if you had hobbies, but we’ve already covered that, haven’t we.  My hobby was to work.

Now, Jack’s been with other kids on occasion.  He’s hung out with them at the gym daycare for an hour or so; with an acquaintance or two with young kids; or, when grabbing other kids’ hair or stealing their toys at the park.  But, we don’t really know many people with kids Jack’s age.  And, until I became a SAHD, the nanny spent as much non-sleeping time with Jack as we did, so we wanted our family time. 

Life is very different now.  We want to hang out with people who are experiencing the same things we are.  We want Jack to have friends.  We want friends! How do we find them?