Raising 5 month old curmudgeons

The following is a speech the old man gave at Sunrise Toastmasters in Portland

I have two very skeptical babies. Their skepticism starts as soon as it is time to go to bed. Now by day, they are the epitome of well behaved, happy-go-lucky babies. This I can attest to, from the safety of my office, far away from any crying or screaming or fussiness. Yes, by day my kids are angels.

Night, however, is a different matter. Once the sun goes down, their nice warm cribs mysteriously transform into places that my twin babies, Zoe and Apollo, firmly believe they must avoid at all costs.

Normally I get home from work around 6 pm, and Nancy has begun feeding the babies. I’ll grab a bottle, and we both get to work. After about an hour they will begin to nod off, and then we burp them and set them down. However, even while half asleep, my babies do not trust me not to put them in the crib. As I gently maneuver a sleepy Apollo from the receiving blanket on my shoulder and set him down, he will crack one eye and give the surroundings a quick once over. Until he’s satisfied that his destination is the couch, or a blanket on the floor in the living room, or anywhere other than the crib, he will not go back to sleep. If he determines that he has indeed been deposited in his crib, the hyperventillation starts, and apoplectic squeaks are soon followed by wails of protest.

Sometimes he doesn’t even waste time with that. Sometimes, as soon as I set him down anywhere, he’ll just start to hyperventilate. He has adopted the policy of “cry first and ask questions later.” After all, one can never be too vigilant, or too skeptical, when avoiding bed time.

Now Zoe is a bit more subtle. If Zoe determines that she has been laid in her crib at night, she won’t protest at first. But as I arrange her sleeping clothes, she will eye me suspiciously while slowly flapping her arms and kicking her feet in a deliberate but uncoordinated way, signalling to me her unhappiness. At times like these I almost feel bad kissing her goodnight, because she regards my “Judas kiss” as the signal that she is about to be abandoned, and she gives me a look that says, “don’t think I don’t know about those 30 pieces of silver.”

So, it appears that my kids are taking after dad: at 5 months old, Zoe and Apollo are already hard bitten skeptics. And you know what? It makes a curmudgeonly father proud.

Now you might think it odd that I relish the idea of my kids growing up to be skeptics. In movies and stories for kids, we often tout belief as a virtue for our children. Nobody likes the skeptical kid. It is the child that believes despite the naysayers that we praise, the girl who believes the department store Santa at the Macy’s really is Santa Clause, or the boy who believes in happiness so Tinkerbell can make him fly–it is belief that we promote and congratulate in our kids. Now don’t get me wrong: childhood should be a time of fairy tales and wonder, where children are encouraged to believe that they can grow up to be anything, and dreams are a constant, happy companion. But there is a danger if our kids somehow get the message that if they only believe hard enough, things will come true.

Children are not sophisticated enough to question the object of their belief, nor would they think to question the adults who instill this faith in them. Therefore when something doesn’t work out, who can they blame? Surely Santa didn’t fail, because he’s, well, Santa. And parents are never wrong. So it must be the child’s fault when his wish doesn’t come true, because he didn’t believe hard enough. This is not a burden we should impose on those too young to know any better.

Life is full of things that children, and frankly adults, should not believe. At no time is this more evident than now, during an election year. But again, this isn’t to say that we shouldn’t instill wonder in our children, or encourage them to dream of possibilities no matter how unlikely. But the fact is, reality contains more wonder and mystery than we could ever make up. The real world holds enough promise and hope, that if we teach our kids how to navigate it, they will discover on their own the magic, and the things that they truly should believe in, and the things they should not.

Right now Zoe and Apollo are true skeptics about bed time. They do not believe that mom and dad will not betray them by filling them with warm milk, lulling them to sleep, and wrapping them in warm blankets in their cribs. No, this they do not believe. After all they are hard boiled veterans, having lived through 5 entire months this nightly betrayal.

And yet, after 5 long months of life, they have also learned that every morning the sun comes up, and mom and dad will return to wake them, and rescue them from their cribs, and set them off on the grand adventure of a new day.

Sometimes it’s good to be a curmudgeon at 5 months old, when despite your best attempts at bedtime to believe that the world is coming to an end, you know that a bright, brand new one is just around the corner.


  1. Felicia and Genaro |


  2. Oh Emery:
    Thank you so much for sharing the pictures of your precious twins.
    I hope you are enjoying your parents. I recently discovered they had moved to Portland. Tell them “Hello” from me.
    Darrel passed away May 10, 2011.
    Carol “Annie” Oakley

    • Thanks Carol. I’m really sorry to hear about Darrel, I’ll let my folks know.

      I wish you guys the best.

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