Dad Tape

I have been a father for either twenty-one months or sixty years, depending on how much sleep I’ve had when you ask me. It’s wonderful, really and truly. It’s incredible how much it changes you. My daughter is either the best baby ever or a Government sleeper agent sent to break my will. Time will tell.

Sleep, you see, is a resource and a responsibility . This has always been true, but you are much more obsessive about it when you’re trying to moderate it for a baby or small child. When did she go to sleep? How long did she sleep? How restful was it? And when that sleep is interrupted, how quickly can you get it back on track?

The biggest enemy in my daughter’s case is distraction. If she can focus on something other than sleeping, she absolutely will, guaranteed. If, for example, she can see the books in her tiny baby library (Goodnight Moon, But Not the Hippopotamus, et. al), she will shout “Book?” and point to them until I give her one or read it to her. If I gently remind her it is sleepy time and not reading time, she cries.

How do you assure the best sleep possible? You keep the room nice and dark. How do you darken a room? You turn out all the lights.

If you can…

There Is a Light That Never Goes Out

When you have a baby, you get all kinds of baby gear, via showers, hand-me-downs, gifts, and your own Amazon bingeing. There are monitors, white noise machines, baby cameras (sometimes the monitors and cameras are one-in-the-same), diaper warmers (which are worthless, trade those in for more diapers), and many more gadgets that ostensibly make the incredible burden of keeping a tiny human alive more manageable.

Almost invariably, these devices have LED indicator lights on them.

Sometimes, they’re tiny green lights that indicate the device is “on”. Sometimes, they’re blue lights that indicate a device is connecting, or has connected, to your phone’s Bluetooth antenna. Sometimes, they’re red and they mean the device is dying or has been disconnected. Sometimes, they blink indiscriminately and randomly and you have no idea what purpose they serve.

Some engineer who, let’s face it, doesn’t have children and never tested these devices on or with children, decided it should go there.

This is the Phillips Avent baby monitor. It’s not the one we have, but it’s not far off, so allow me to talk smack about it.

First of all, some praise: this does what it is meant to do. It allows you to listen in on the baby as she sleeps. So, it covers that base. Well done, It.

There are other good things about it: it has a long range so you can walk pretty far and not lose signal; it has a little nightlight that you can self-select if you need a soft, warm light to see by at night (not blue or white light, which is critical).

And then, there’s the rest of the umpteen-million lights on the thing. One is a battery level indicator. One is a power/linking indicator. Why these are not the same light with varying phases/colors, I do not know. Then, on the hand unit (the one I keep right by my bed as the baby sleeps), there is the LCD screen. There is also a line of circles that increase in size progressively and indicate how loud the baby is being. In theory? Useful. In practice? Less so. My wife and I keep a fan running in our baby’s room as white noise to help mask the creeking of floorboards or the noises from the kitchen downstairs as we go about our lives. So, the noise indicator is always on. It’s always flickering and blinking. There is (seemingly) no way to turn it off or squelch it. I’ve tried, God knows I’ve tried.

In addition, the LCD screen will illuminate when the room gets too warm or when there’s some new status message it feels is important to show you. More blue light. More lack-of-control.

Now, learning that the room is too hot for the baby is fine. That’s a good use of a bright, sleep-disturbing light. But the constant blinky-blinky of that noise indicator circle line is what finally broke me. So what did I do? The only thing I really know to do in situations like these:

I put a big ol’ strip of electrical tape right over top of it.

Electrical Tape and Me: A Love Story

When I was a kid, my dad was a telephone repair man. This was in a time long ago, when everyone had and depended on a home phone, and when that phone broke, they sent a person in to fix it. My dad was one of those people: a lineman for the county, driving the main road.

My dad was issued rolls and rolls of electrical tape because they were integral to his job. His employer didn’t ask a lot of questions about how many rolls of this tape he used. Which was good, because I stole sooooo many rolls for myself. I used it to do all sort of goofy stuff. To me, tape was tape, and electrical tape was just flat out the best for fixing little doo-dads and toys and things.

To me, black electrical tape is “Dad Tape.” It’s the tape of dads. For some, that might be duct tape, but my father wasn’t a duct man. He was an electrical tape man. He still is, to this day. Just last month, he fixed something in my home and wouldn’t you know it, there was a big ol’ wad of electrical tape right on top. I almost got teary-eyed.

It’s sturdy and sticky, but less permanent than duct tape and less flimsy than scotch tape. It’s insulated, so if you have a frayed wire or cord, you can tape it up with electrical tape and it won’t shock you. You can pull it tight and really seal up a pipe fitting or a tool handle or any old thing. It’s very strong and lasts a long time. And best of all? It’s black and opaque.

See? TJ Luoma gets it.

The podcast Back to Work with Dan Benjamin and Merlin Mann put me on to the idea of blocking out annoying lights with my long-time favorite adhesive strip. Dan recommended gaffer’s tape, but I’m not a stagehand, I trod the boards! Electrical tape it is!

My “lifehacked” baby monitor. Notice how the “link” light is lit? It’s always lit. It’s on all the time, every waking minute of the day. Great.

Now THAT’S a dad-level fix.

I also applied a thorough strip to the new surge protector my wife bought for my daughter’s room.

See how the light is SO BRIGHT it bleeds through the plastic?! Madness.

What to glean from all this: indicator lights should indicate that something has happened, or is going to happen. Not that the thing exists. Not that “all’s well.” I think back to Homer Simpson’s “Everything’s Okay” alarm.

Homer could easily have designed children’s electronics.

Why have a light that doesn’t turn off? Why have a light at all? I think about what someone told me once about icons: if you have an icon and you need text near the icon to describe what the icon does, you don’t need the icon. If you have an indicator light that you need to use the manual to understand, you have a bad indicator light. If you have a light you can’t manage in some way, either to dim or to switch off, why have it? Especially when it might come between you and your precious, precious sleep?

My daughter can sleep with a tiny bit of light now. She is, in all honesty, a GREAT baby. I can’t stress that enough, especially when she starts reading this blog when she’s in college and wonders if I love her or not (I do, honey, I love you very much. It’s why I go to all this trouble). But blinky-blinky lights don’t make the job easy. She prefers a darker room to a lighter one, but she’ll sleep where she has to these days. At least I’ve made it a little bit easier on her and on me.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Twitter’s own Cap’n Mariam contributed to this story.