Dad Magazine online
November 2010  

We know the challenges of parenting will change as our children grow.  In some ways, this is

The Easy Part  
by Jessica Kearney Heidgerken and Daren Heidgerken

    About four and a half years ago, we were sitting in a hospital room, in awe of our new baby girl, excited to embark on the grand adventure of parenthood.  We had the books; we had the equipment, toys and clothes; we had a boatload of solicited and unsolicited advice from family, friends and total strangers; and now we had the infant.  I remember that first car ride, driving home from the hospital, and the anxiety about the drivers sharing the road with us; they didn’t signal lane changes and drove much too fast.  Didn’t they know we had precious cargo?!

    Today Baby Girl has a two-year-old brother, and parenting is even more of an adventure.  We’ve learned so much along the way.  We can change a diaper practically anywhere.  We know how to ease the discomfort and assist the recovery for colds, the flu, all manner of infections, and even the croup.  Chocolate helps the medicine go down.

    We’ve learned the art of distraction.  Funny faces and funny voices are an eminently useful part of a parent’s arsenal.  We can keep our children entertained and well-behaved in restaurants and on airplanes.  We’ve read thousands of stories and sang thousands of lullabies.  We’ve played and colored and painted and danced.  We even survived potty training (though, just barely).

    On the other hand, somehow going from one child to two seemed like more than double the work.  We still don’t know how to tempt our picky eater.  Choosing the right school district for Baby Girl seems overwhelming and daunting at the moment.  So does selecting the right preschool for our son.  And I still rail against those crazy drivers.  But we are markedly different from and more confident than the “newbies” who drove that precious infant home that day.  We know our children better than anyone else does, we (usually) remember to trust our instincts, and we try not to get lost in the details.

    We know the challenges of parenting will change as our children grow.  In some ways, this is the easy part  —  they think we hung the moon; hugs and kisses are plentiful; we get to tuck them in to their beds every night; the hardest question we’ve had to address was how the doctors get the babies out of their mommies’ tummies.  We plan to enjoy it as long as possible.

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July 2010   

Tots can appreciate great music, so why not give it to them?  “Look!  Baby Girl listens to me,”

Said Taylor Swiftly
By Jessica Kearney Heidgerken

    At our house, we listen to a variety of music: classical, jazz, pop, classic rock, alternative and country (yes, death metal and hardcore rap are grossly underrepresented).  Dad prefers Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Norah Jones, Cake and Plain White Ts.  Mom enjoys Pink, Alison Krauss, Aerosmith, Etta James and Patsy Cline.  Baby Boy dances to anything with a beat — including the dishwasher — and has been known to shoulder shimmy and shout, “Let’s go!” when he hears “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” by Cyndi Lauper.  And then there’s Baby Girl, who in the womb rocked out to Louis Armstrong and Johnny Cash, her little fetal legs keeping time to the beat.  Baby Girl’s favorite song in the whole wide world is “You Belong with Me” by Taylor Swift.

    She sings along, she creates dances, she keeps us in stitches with her misheard lyrics. (One recent gem: “She’s just a captain, and I’m the bleachers.”  But then, that’s quite representative of the high school experience, too.)  Baby Girl heard this song on the radio and was grooving in her car seat.  We only recently bought her the album.  Though we aren’t huge fans of the current country music crossover darling, we were rather ecstatic that Baby Girl’s favorite song wasn’t by, say, Miley Cyrus or Ke$ha.

    Swift plays an instrument.  She writes her own songs.  She doesn’t embarrass herself when she takes an acting role (not essential, but nice all the same).  More important, she has poise and grace and humility.  Unlike Cyrus, she dresses appropriately for her age.  Unlike Ke$ha, her songs don’t glorify binge drinking.  Unlike Britney Spears, she wears underwear.

    Also, and this is important, Taylor Swift is not Barney.  Almost as cringe-worthy as the inappropriate behavior of the aforementioned pop tarts is the insipidness of much music aimed at children.  Tots can appreciate great music, so why not give it to them?  Why foist the classical music drivel of Baby Einstein CDs on our kids when they can hear the same songs played by the world’s greatest symphony orchestras?

    With that in mind, here are five of our family’s favorite albums, the ones with great music that get us up and moving for rainy-day dance parties (instruments optional):

1.  Jazz for Kids: Sing, Clap, Wiggle and Shake (various artists): Eleven tracks from jazz greats such as Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Prima and Louis Armstrong that keep us singing and bopping at home and in the car.

2.  Mary Poppins: An Original Walt Disney Records Soundtrack (various artists): My first-grade teacher, Mrs. Shield, often played this record during clean-up time. I still enjoy it, and “Sister Suffragette” was one of Baby Girl’s early favorites.

3.  Snack Time by Barenaked Ladies: Songs about ninjas, pollywogs and allergies. What’s not to love?

4.  Dog Train (various artists): Featuring the Spin Doctors, Blues Traveler and The Bacon Brothers. Dog Train is our favorite (and arguably the peppiest) of all the Sandra Boynton CD/book combos, although Blue Moo is also very danceable.

5.  The Muppet Show: Music, Mayhem and More! The 25th Anniversary Collection (various artists): This contains several gems from our childhoods, including my favorite version of “Tenderly” by one of my favorite bands: Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem!

    Our next purchases likely will include Family Time by Ziggy Marley, and Baby Girl has requested the movie soundtrack of The Music Man. We’re always looking to expand our collection and our horizons; what are your favorites?

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November 2009  

My fears about becoming a parent became apparent when I was getting

My 40 Winks
by Jessica Kearney Heidgerken

       I’ve always dreamt vividly and often been able to remember those bizarre mind movies the next morning.  No surprise, then, that when we were preparing to have our first child, my dreams were right there with us.  One night I dreamt we had a blond baby boy and, instead of bassinets in a nursery, the hospital kept the babies in car seats placed in rows in a standing refrigerated case, like those found near the deli at the local Safeway, containing sliced meats and cheeses.  When my husband went to retrieve our baby from the case so we could journey home, he brought back the wrong baby.  I tried to convince him we were supposed to take the one I bore, but I couldn’t recollect why this was so, much less provide a convincing argument for him.
       In another dream, we were at home with our baby (again, a boy).  He slept in the refrigerator.  In my dream, I looked up at the clock at 2 p.m. and realized I hadn’t removed the baby from the refrigerator that morning.  Egads!
      Other nights I dreamt about my childhood, then later about high school, and toward the end of my pregnancy, my dreams centered on college and my job. A middle-of-the-night “this is your life.”  Obviously, my fears about becoming a parent and entering a new stage of life — and of cold storage, perhaps — were coming through when I was getting my 40 winks.  The dreams weren’t prophetic (our first baby was a girl), but they did provide for entertaining dinner conversation.
       During my second pregnancy, I dreamt the baby was a girl. And then he was born, and sleep became the stuff of dreams.  It has been a year since Baby Boy joined our family, and we are finally getting regular sleep.  Unless he is teething.  Or gassy.  Or too cold.  Or worrying about the economy.  OK, maybe that one is more us than him.

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June 2008

I am not a doctor, and this is not to be construed as medical advice.  But parents are too worried about their

Children and Food Allergies
by Jessica Kearney Heidgerken

         As parents today, we have something new to be afraid of every time we open a newspaper or a parenting magazine.  Toys contain lead, baby bottles contain bisphenol-A, and our children should be in car seats until they leave for college.  Even our food is not safe.  Many parents have been told to delay the introduction of potential allergens – such as dairy, peanut butter and wheat – to avoid allergies to those foods in their children.
         But when did it become status quo to let our children’s diets be governed by the exception rather than the rule?  Why do we assume our children are going to be allergic?  Lucky for us parents, the medical establishment is changing its tune.  A January 7, 2008, article from the Associated Press notes the American Academy of Pediatrics found “there is no convincing evidence that delaying the introduction of foods such as eggs, fish or peanut butter to children prevents allergies.”
         My husband and I have operated under that assumption with Baby Girl.  She had wheat by 6 months and every other potential allergen by 15 months.  We enjoy cooking and sharing new foods with Baby Girl.  She likes fried calamari but dislikes shrimp.  She loves her milk and cheeses — even, to our surprise, goat cheese.  Topping the list of her favorite foods are chocolate, pancakes, blueberries and popcorn. We have taken back the pleasures of cooking for and eating with our toddler.
         Now if you have a history of food allergies in your family, of course you need to be cautious.  I am not a doctor, and this is not to be construed as medical advice. But wouldn’t it be nice to shrug off one of the myriad worries that consume our parental brains?  To let our children revel in the simple joys of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches before they go to preschool? 
         Naturally, that’s just our take on things.  Remember, we’re new at this.

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March 2008

We didn’t know about air flight when we were growing up, but our Baby Girl has become quite the 

Frequent Flyer

by Daren Kearney Heidgerken

            When I was a child, vacations amounted to camping trips in Iowa, Illinois or Minnesota.  One memorable campout in Gurnee, Illinois, was interrupted by a ferocious rainstorm; the wind and deluge transformed the roof of my parent’s eight-person tent into a funnel and blew my brother’s pop-up tent about four campsites down the way.  It was one of the few times as a child that I got to stay in a hotel.

         I was 22 when I boarded my first commercial airline flight.  I was traveling to New York City to see my girlfriend (now wife).  Her first flight was earlier that same summer, when she boarded a plane in Omaha, heading for an internship in the Big Apple. (When my wife was a child, her family vacationed all over the country, with the occasional jaunt into Canada, but drove to every destination.)     

         Baby Girl, on the other hand, is not yet 20 months old and has already made seven round trips via airplane, visiting six states.  Most of these trips have been to the Heartland to visit her grandparents, but she also has seen the lights of Las Vegas, the lakes of Minnesota and the salmon run in Washington.

         Her vacation experiences are markedly different from those of my childhood.  She stayed in a hotel for the first time at three months of age and has never been camping.  But Baby Girl is a frequent flyer for an important reason: We want her to grow up knowing her grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins – just like we did.  Living some 2,000 miles from our former stomping grounds, she does not get to spend summers catching fireflies with her cousins or canning tomatoes with her grandmas.  But these trips have allowed her to play in the snow with our nephews, test out the slide in Grandma and Papa’s backyard, and get some tips from Grandpa and Grandma on pounding, er, playing the piano.

         Beyond a mere vacation, these trips home create a sense of belonging for Baby Girl and a chance to learn where we came from.     

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December 12, 2007

We have become such avid multi-taskers that we can not match the

Attention Span of a One-Year-Old

By Daren Kearney Heidgerken

         When she turned one, my daughter received a set of colorful stacking rings.  I have always heard how short the attention span of children is.  What does it say about me when Baby Girl, on her first birthday, could focus on stacking her rings on top of each other longer than I could?

         I find that there is always a constant stream of thoughts running through my mind competing with my paying complete attention to her: to-do lists for work, honey-do lists for home, or that article that I wanted to look up on the Web.  Each task tries to pull my attention away from the proud little girl focused solely on showing her daddy how well she can sort the rings.

         It seems that the rat race we live in and the constant stream of information that surrounds us is severely limiting our ability to concentrate on one thing at a time.  The news carries  stories about how television affects children, but what about us adults who are supposed to be setting an example for our kids?  Have we become so into multi-tasking that we cannot match a one-year-old child’s attention span?  It’s possible.  Heck, I’ve already checked my email and the news while writing this column.  While that probably doesn’t do any harm, my Baby Girl does deserve better.  It will continue to be a struggle, but I will make every effort to sit on the floor and focus only on watching her pull the rings off the post and try putting them back on one more time.     

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November 21, 2007

There was a time, before the baby, when I was a 

Macho Man
By Daren Kearney Heidgerken

        There was a time when I thought I was a pretty stoic guy.  All macho and tough.  Isn’t that the way guys are supposed to be?  Never let them see you cry, unless you really did a number on your finger with that hammer.  Even then, you just grunt and turn away so no one can see your eyes tear up. I think that my wife saw me cry once in the eight years prior to Baby Girl being born. Eight years of funerals, weddings, stubbed toes and sappy movies without a single tear shed.  I never thought of myself as coldhearted; I just like to keep my emotions to myself. 

Things have changed over the past fifteen months.

        It started, of course, at Baby Girl’s birth. Seeing her come into this world was such an amazing thing, the tears welled up and just kept on coming.  But that was okay, right?  I was in the privacy of a hospital room, participating in a momentous occasion. Besides, I was sleep deprived.  Nothing to worry about.  Then country songs about children growing older started to tug at my heart, but no tears, so I figured I was doing okay.

Things changed when the Jessica and I were sitting on the couch watching TV and holding Baby Girl as she slept.  We were watching the Disney movie The Rookie and, just as Dennis Quaid was telling his wife that he made it into the Majors, a couple of tears trickled down my face.

Jessica and I got a good laugh out of it, but it helped to drive home that my perspective on life has changed.  Happy times and sad occasions tug a little stronger on my heart strings.  I guess it won’t be bad for Baby Girl to see her daddy a little emotional now and then.

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September 26, 2007


The Kindness of Strangers

By Jessica Kearney Heidgerken


      When we first brought Baby Girl home from the hospital, we felt outnumbered.  One very small, very new person totally KOs two adults.  As our daughter has grown and we’ve become more at ease with being parents, things have evened out a bit.  So this summer I decided to fly solo – literally – with Baby Girl to attend the weddings of my cousins.  After all, who likes things easy?

First, I was completely outmanned simply in carrying Baby Girl and her accoutrements.  Second, I survived only by the grace of God and the kindness of strangers.  To wit, in the security line was the man who offered to help me put the stroller through the X-ray machine and also pointed out that I had dropped my photo I.D.  At the gate was a fellow passenger who picked up my boarding pass, which unbeknownst to me had toppled to the floor when I was picking up Bunny-Bear, Baby Girl’s security object du jour.  So far I had cursed myself for a fool at least 27 times.

       The first leg of our journey, a mere hour-long jaunt, was a breeze.  We had an entire row of seats to ourselves, and Baby Girl slept the entire trip.  The second flight was a different story, although the Strangers were not to let me down.  A fellow parent carried my stroller down the jetway.  I don’t know if he was prompted by his wife, simple pity or by witnessing me in the pre-boarding area as I tried to hang on to Baby Girl while attempting to fold up the stroller and give the attendant our boarding pass.  Maybe a combination of all three.

This flight was completely full.  We chose an aisle seat, but a few words of advice.  It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, when sitting in the narrow confines of coach and holding a squirming one-year-old child, to reach down and actually reach the diaper bag crammed with diapers, wipes, finger food, formula and enough toys for four children.  Were it not for the Kindly Grandfather seated next to us, Baby Girl would have strolled up to first class and left me fumbling for Gerber crackers, diapers and a DoodlePro.  Over the next three hours Kindly Grandfather helped me make bottles, entertained Baby Girl and repeatedly delivered up Bunny-Bear from the floor (dropping things seems to be a family trait).

By the time we landed in Kansas City, I had vowed (a) to never do this again, (b) to be a kinder stranger myself, and (c) to remember correct change for the return flight, when my husband would be with us – “Beer is $3, and wine is $4.”



August 15, 2007
Dog Days
by Jessica Kearney Heidgerken


      After we were married, friends and relatives routinely asked when we were going to crank out a kidlet. Many of our friends have been beset by the same well-intentioned prying and respond by adopting a “starter baby” – a dog, a cat, the occasional ferret.  We didn’t go this route, being unable to keep even the hardiest of plants alive for more than a few months and assuming pets would not serve to prepare us for parenthood.  But now that we have a darling baby, we have realized that she is remarkably similar to, say, a dog.


Ways Our Baby Is Like a Puppy:

(1)   She drools … a lot.  Think Turner & Hooch.

(2)   She needs to be walked every day.

(3)   She eats food off of the floor.

(4)   She gives slobbery kisses (see No. 1).

(5)   She chews on socks and, when we aren’t looking, shoes.

(6)   She chews on the furniture.  Wood is her favorite.  Really.

(7)   When she was younger, she lapped up water with her tongue.

(8)   She likes squeaky toys.


Of course, we wouldn’t trade Baby Girl for a million Schnoodles.  A dog can’t giggle or say “Dada” or wrap his chubby arms around you for a hug.  But at least now we know we could handle raising a puppy.


August 8, 2007

Spreading the Joy

By Daren Kearney Heidgerken


   Our little girl recently celebrated her first birthday.  As part of her birthday celebrations — she had three — she got to eat birthday cupcakes and cookies.  “Eat” is a bit of a relative term because she wore twice as much on the outside as she put in her little tummy.  She seemed to enjoy destroying her cupcake and tasting the little bits that remained, although she wasn’t so sure about the frosting.  Ice cream, on the other hand, she can’t get enough of.  About this, I rejoice.  I’m looking forward to introducing her to Mssrs. Ben and Jerry.


   Birthday cake and ice cream are only a few of the new foods she has been trying.  It is fun to finally get to share food with her.  She lets us know pretty quickly what she thinks of an item.  If she doesn’t like the taste or texture or it wasn’t what she expected, the offending item quickly comes back out on her tongue accompanied by the most exaggerated grimace.  Sometimes a second attempt will get her past the initial shock, but often she will turn her head or push the food away.  It is extremely cute … and frustrating.  So far strawberries, cheese, bananas, cheese, bread, Cheerios – and did I mention cheese? – are in.  Potatoes and corn are out.


   I was surprised by how much she wants to share her food with us and likes to help us eat and drink like we help her.  She will offer up bits of strawberries and cereal to me while I am feeding her.  Usually she wants to put them directly in my mouth.  Sharing a glass of water with her is a fun game to play but is not without its hazards.  Earlier today, one of the Cheerios seemed a little mushier than normal.  I can’t say whether it was dragged through a bit of water on her tray or had already been tasted.  All I know is my girl was smiling and happy to be sharing breakfast with me. And I am smiling and happy that she wants to share her food, and her life, with me.



June 20, 2007

My Day 
by Daren Heidgerken

    Last Sunday, all across the country, kids called their dads and granddads to thank them, many of them collect.  I, too, called my dad and grandpa to wish them a happy Father's Day.  There is so much that they have taught me and continue to teach me as our relationships grow and change. 

    My little one is a bit too young, still under a year old, to understand that the third Sunday in June is now more special for me than any other day.  I don't know if she understands that we have taught her anything, except maybe that the cookbooks aren't meant to be eaten no matter how tasty the pictures look.  I imagine she just thinks that the games we play are fun.  That doesn't matter.  I don't know of a better way she could thank me than the way she says "Dada" when I come home from work.  So this year I will thank her for the things that she has taught me over the past eleven months. 

    I now know that it is possible to change diapers with your eyes closed.  I can function on less sleep than I ever could imagine.  It is impossible to go to grandmother's house without getting dirty.  Changing diapers, even stinky ones, aren't so bad if it means we get to spend a little time together before I head to the office.  Little kids can always reach a little higher and move a little faster than you think they can.  Songs don't have to make sense or be sung in tune to be soothing or fun. 

    I have learned that a year can seem to fly by so fast and, at the same time, seem like such an eternity that I have trouble remembering what life was like before she arrived. 

    I look forward to spending future Father's Days with my little girl accompanied by hand-drawn cards and scribbled signatures. Most of all I look forward to growing with her.  I am sure she will continue to teach me as much as I will teach her.


June 6, 2007

The Minivan Cult 
by Daren Heidgerken

    The minivan: It is the badge of family-dom.  If I believe what I’ve repeatedly been told, it is inevitably part of your future once you start a family.  My wife is convinced some sort of minivan vortex seeks out new parents and sucks them in, never to be seen again in the land of sporty cars and trucks.  Her position was strengthened the other night over dinner with our friends, Sarah and Kelly.  Sarah said Kelly nearly fell out of his chair when she called him a few weeks ago from her SUV and the first words out of her mouth were, “I want a minivan!”  Watching the other parents unload their children at dance class made those remote-controlled, sliding doors especially seductive.

    What makes this vehicle a requirement for every family?  They didn’t exist when I grew up, and I turned out OK (Jessica may disagree).  My family had a series of station wagons.  Not glorified hatchbacks or “5-door” cars.  This was the ’80s, and I am talking large station wagons, with large engines.  This was the era of the Ford LTD and Chevy Caprice wagons with the original fold-flat seats.  The second row could fold down, and the “third” row came in two configurations, facing either forward or toward the back.  The engines were big block V8.  If you look around on YouTube, you can see some of these classics at the drag strip beating out Mustangs and Camaros.  Today, the closest thing that comes to these old-style station wagons are the crossover vehicles that are currently in vogue.

    Now I don’t have a problem with other people owning minivans.  I simply think it is neither necessary nor am I destined to have one for my family.  You can raise children just as well owning a Civic, an Explorer or even a Maybach 57S (Jessica wishes).

    At this point in my argument, most people comment that I eventually will give into Jessica’s demands for one.  Doubtful, since I had to drag her kicking and screaming into the world of four-door sedans. But then, she hasn’t started driving the carpool to dance class yet.


May 30, 2007

It Takes a Village
by Daren Heidgerken

      The woman along Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco thought it was great our six-week-old was out in the world.  The woman at Whole Foods thought our three-month-old was too young to be out in the world.  It takes a village, or at least everyone in the village has an opinion.

      Being a parent, even just expecting a baby, seems to signal to everyone else that they have license to tell you how to raise your child.  The free advice comes from family, friends, neighbors, co-workers and, of course, the complete stranger that you run into in the supermarket.  The constant flow of helpful tips and instructions can become overwhelming rather quickly.

      For the sake of your relationships and your sanity, it is important to realize a couple of things.  First, people mean well.  They really think they are being helpful and know the best way to raise a child.  Second, there is little you can do to stop them anyway.

    Because everyone already is giving you advice, here is my three-step process for dealing with it:

(1)   Accept it gracefully.  This, of course, is the hardest step, especially if the words of wisdom are flowing from people who have never even held a baby or who obtained all of their information from one early childhood development class they took five years ago.

(2)   Briefly consider and throw away anything and everything that does not make sense to you.

(3)   Go on raising your little bundle of joy the best that you can.

      Feel free to apply these steps to anything you read in later columns.

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We Are Jessica and Daren Kearney Heidgerken
by Jessica and Daren Kearney Heidgerken

      We are a bit new to parenting; our baby girl was born in the summer of 2006.  Despite its newness, parenthood feels very natural, almost as if our little one has always been with us, turning our parenting strategies and philosophies on their heads, much as she does her Weebles.

      We look forward to sharing our experiences and hope you enjoy the ride.  At the very least, we are sure this column will provide some rich material with which to embarrass Baby Girl at her high school graduation.

      Daren, aka Daddy, is a manager at an engineering firm in California.  More specifically, he is a rocket scientist, which might get him some oohs and aahs were he to go on Jeopardy but doesn’t mean diddly squat to a baby.  In a former life, say 10 months ago, Jessica was an editor.  Now she’s a stay-at-home mom who has not the slightest urge to buy a minivan.
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