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About James di Properzio

James di Properzio is a freelance writer and editor, specializing in making technical information interesting and accessible. He used to say he probably wanted to have a kid, someday. When his wife got pregnant while a full time professor, James working from home offered him the chance to become a more involved dad, despite the fact that he had never held an infant before. Now they have three kids--so far. His book, The Baby Bonding Book for Dads, co-written with his wife Jennifer Margulis, was published in March 2008 by Willow Creek Press.

Here are my most recent posts

Talking to Your Newborn? Not as One-Sided a Conversation as You Might Think.

Newborns don’t talk much, and any conversation with them is going to be pretty one-sided.  Once you’re past the greetings, and the cutesy or silly things people say to babies, you might feel like you’ve run out of things to say.  But newborns need you to talk to them, because their brains are taking in language and cracking the code so fast that within a year they will understand your language and be starting to use it themselves.  Also, the powerful mirror neurons that let us learn by imitation (and also help us empathize with others) are going full steam in a baby’s brain, and you are modeling behavior like talking which they will imitate. They can tell you are paying attention to them when you’re looking them in the eye and talking to them, and there is a pleasant feedback loop as they take that in, their brains are stimulated, they try to respond, and see your reaction.

Singing to them is always good—you don’t need to come up with things to say, and they respond well to the music—but just talking about whatever you feel like telling them, or blathering about what your wife isn’t interested in anyway, is a special interaction that not only benefits the baby, but helps them bond to your face and voice. Once you get over the feeling that you’re talking to yourself and realize there’s more to it than that, you can form a habit of active interaction and sustained attention that really adds to the intimacy of your relationship with your child.

Since they will imitate what you model, look for them to respond by babbling, yelling, humming, etc. In Italian there’s a saying: ‘Sbagliando s’imparo’—’Making mistakes, I’m teaching myself.’  Their responses might not mean anything, but they are doing their best to interact with you—to keep up their end of the conversation, if you will—so it’s not a failed conversation but a genuine interaction.  And for that matter, that’s all most conversations are anyway—the pleasure of interacting, regardless of how efficient the communication is.  At least with a baby you have an enthusiastic listener.

 – James di Properzio

James di Properzio co-wrote The Baby Bonding Book for Dads, published March 2008 by Willow Creek Press, with his wife, Jennifer Margulis, a writer and photojournalist.

Five Ways to Make a Baby Smile

Much has been made of the importance of a baby’s smile, and cross-cultural studies show that all human babies smile at about the same age, 3-5 months. As a father, this is one of the best ways to connect, because it’s gratifying to see them smile, and they will pay rapt attention, and start looking forward to your stimulating company. All it really takes are the simplest tricks, and a total lack of inhibition—at least around babies. Here are five ways for dads to make a baby smile, and probably even guffaw.

1.    Pretend to sneeze: For some reason, this is like Saturday Night Live for babies. Ham it up, acting like you’re really going to have a big sneeze—the baby will stare at you, riveted, maybe even looking worried. Then fake sneeze in the most ridiculous way you can—try channeling one of the Three Stooges. Even very young babies you might have thought to be pre-humor will crack up. In fact, that look of worry suggests that the anticipation, and the catharsis at your fake sneeze, are probably what makes it so funny—that’s the basic structure of all jokes, and this is the first one they really get.

2.    Toes in Beard: While the baby is on her back, pick up her feet and stick her toes right into your beard, combing them through with swooping motions like you’re trying to remove tangles. Don’t forget to look surprised and exclaim “Toes in beard!” as if the baby were doing something alarming to you. If/when you don’t have a beard, sideburns work fine; in a pinch, even you hair, if you’re not too fussy about your ‘do. Five-o’clock shadow is also good for tickling the bottoms of the toes and feet, and as a variation you can pretend to shave with the baby’s feet. Anything that involves the feet being on your face is good for them, including hiding your eyes behind the feet and then saying “Hey, where’d he go?” while trying to look around.

3.    Neck attack: While  holding baby, turn your head and get right in there to kiss the baby’s neck repeatedly, making loud smacking and snortling noises. Works even better with a little stubble, which tickles. This is one of the few tricks that work from earliest babyhood until they’re old enough to make you knock it off, like around ten.

4.    Stinky feet: While the baby is on his back, hold up one foot and say, “Let’s see if this foot is clean.” (Once the baby is talking, you can ask instead, which adds to the fun.) Smell the foot, rolling your eyes around as if considering carefully, and say, “Oh, yeah, what a nice clean foot!” Then pick up the other one, ask if this one is clean, put your nose up to it and immediately howl “Oh, stinky!” Once they can talk, they’ll ask you to do this one over and over, like 25 times. My 7-year-old, whose feet really do get stinky by now, is still trying to get me to do it again, even though I’ve been refusing for years.

5.    Chicken surprise: when the baby is old enough to sit up in a bouncy seat or high chair, get directly behind them, put both hands on your sides and flap your elbows behind your back like chicken wings. Walk slowly from side to side where the baby can’t quite turn enough to see you, making quiet bock-bock noises. When you get to one end and the baby finally sees you swoop in and peck at the nape of their neck with your nose, excitedly rattling off, “Bock! Bock-bock-bock-bockawk!” Repeat, headed in the other direction.

All of these shticks will have their rapt attention, and they’ll be begging for more once they can communicate. You, of course, will get tired of it after a few minutes, but it’s always nice to feel like you left them wanting more, and with very young children, the more you do it, the funnier it gets.

 – James di Properzio

James di Properzio co-wrote The Baby Bonding Book for Dads, published March 2008 by Willow Creek Press, with his wife, Jennifer Margulis, a writer and photojournalist.

Bonding with Your New Baby: A DIY Approach

Confession: I had never held a baby until my first was born. Most first-time dads faced with their newborn child are in the same boat: How floppy will it be? Can you break it? How many years will it be before I can interact with it?

While I was still puzzling this, my wife, without even moving from bed after her exhausting labor, took the newborn back and settled her in the crook of one arm, where the baby adroitly latched on to nurse. Docking complete. Bonding successful. And she’s never even practiced that?

I had always thought I would probably have a kid, at some point, but it’s not like I had prepared for it. I still remember being attached to my dad when I was two or three, and of how he would get me up with him while he was getting ready for work, and come home between jobs, drop his briefcase and scoop me up to go play and talk. But it’s not like I remembered how to do that—I was on the other side of it—and after 30 years even he didn’t remember how to do it. When I presented him with his first grandchild, he stood frozen in the position I left him in, like I’d handed him a glass jug full of nitroglycerin.

Somehow men in our culture grow up without a clear idea of how to bond with babies, and worse, with the idea that it’s something women do naturally and so it’s not really a man’s role. Without a model, and without breasts, we’re a bit unsure what to do, and no one likes to do something they’re not confident about. But I knew if I didn’t jump in and try, I would miss out on one of the closest relationships of my life.

So I was thrilled to bottle-feed my daughter, and take her around in the front-pack, and several years—and two more kids—later, my wife and I wrote a book called The Baby Bonding Book for Dads. What I had most wished for was what any man would want: a to-do list, specific do-able ways to bond, and that’s what we came up with.

None of them are clever tricks; they’re all just normal ways of living and taking care of a baby, but viewed as opportunities for bonding. I’ll be adding some of them to this site as things to try if you, like me, have wondered what to do with a floppy person you want to get to know.

And don’t just try. As Yoda says, “Try not! Do or do not; there is no try.” If you do it, it works. You’re bonded.

 – James di Properzio

James di Properzio co-wrote The Baby Bonding Book for Dads, published March 2008 by Willow Creek Press, with his wife, Jennifer Margulis, a writer and photojournalist.