Sunday, December 8, 2013

Five Month Old Baby

I fed my daughter actual food last night. It was a rice cereal and breast milk combination that my wife and I dared each other to try. Neither of us tried it. But that didn't stop me from shoveling spoonful after spoonful of the stuff into the baby’s face. In any event, this first food seemed like a real milestone in her life, and therefore a good opportunity to reflect back on just what the hell has happened to me, my wife, and my daughter these past five months. 

I’ll work backwards, starting with  last night, where I had the singular and delightful experience of waking up to my daughter chewing on my nose - gumming it actually, with quick little milk breath bites. The experience basically made the rest of the day unruinable. And I don’t know if it was the food or the nose, but when she woke up in the morning she was bigger. She was thicker and heavier and taller. Growth spurts are a crazy thing. She cried out in the middle of the night in a way she never does. She was growing. I wonder if you had put one of those high speed cameras on her at that moment if you could see it happen.

Last week, the little girl had her first real fever, and we took our first real trip to the ER. Three days of a 103 degree temperature and it was a full-blown panic. “How have you been taking her temperature?” they wanted to know. “Up the butt,” I told them, unable to come up with the word I was looking for. After tests and prodding they said she was sick. It was viral. There was nothing to be done about it. But if she’s not better tomorrow, they said, bring her back. Back for what? I wanted to scream. BACK FOR WHAT, DAMNIT! Are you people just fucking with me? BACK FOR WHAT! Let’s pretend today is tomorrow and the symptoms are the same. How about you do for her now what you will supposedly do for her tomorrow, and save me the time and money and the nightmare of standing in line for coffee in this dark dark expensive place. My relationship with baby-related doctors started great. Labor and delivery was great, doctor and nurse-wise. But since then, it’s been rough.  Doctors have done little more than charge me a bunch of money for my piece of mind. And what’s that worth? I’m mostly insane these days anyways, so why am I taking my sniffling daughter to doctors who tell me to wait and see wait and see wait and see? At the ER they said they’d suction my daughter’s nose, which is interminably clogged. “We have really good suction here,” they told me. I was picturing some fancy machine, or at least some specialized tool. I figured, well if they can’t do anything for her fever, they can at least help her breathe. But then the nurse took out the same old bulb syringe we've been using all along, and sucked a little snot. “Ooh, that one sounded juicy,” she exclaimed, enjoying her job a little too much. The little girl was clogged up again before we even left the building.

The first night she was sick we were staying in a hotel room, on the way to visit family for the holidays. She cried through the night with her fever. She wailed through the night. Our poor neighbors. At one point I caught myself being more worried about the neighbors than I was about my daughter. This is what I mean about being mostly insane. I felt bad about not ordering my concerns appropriately. Daughter should be first, always. Burning up like she was. But she was third, behind the angry neighbors and my own concerns about not being concerned about things in the right way. And it’s hard to ruminate properly on a way-too-soft hotel mattress. 

But it’s not all panic and desperation. Certainly not. These five months have been full of weird unforeseen delights. Like Goodnight Moon. Or specifically, the “Goodnight nobody” page in Goodnight Moon.  If you've only read the book eight-hundred times, you might not remember what I’m talking about, that ridiculous, amazing blank white page in the middle of the otherwise richly illustrated book that just says, “Goodnight nobody.” I didn't know this prior to observing the miracle of birth, but Goodnight Moon plops out just after the placenta, which is why all parents have a copy. And all those parents know exactly what I’m talking about. The phenomenon is even Googleable. Every time I get to that page my heart swells. I don’t know why. I’d like to think it’s the author’s attempt to be subversive, a kind of in-joke about the absurdity of “children’s literature” in general. And maybe “literature” is too strong a word for what I have stacked on my coffee table. I’d like to think the author wanted to see if she could get away with nothing. It’s a perfect example of literary post-modernism, “written” at a time when post-modernism was just getting started. Posts on online message boards have suggested that the comment “Goodnight nobody” is part of a stall tactic used by the little bunny to stay awake longer. And that makes sense. But it doesn't explain why the fricking page is blank! There are no drawings and no colors. Taken as an isolated event, the page has nothing to offer a small illiterate child. Nothing! In fact, if can put myself in my daughter's head for just a second, the page is downright traumatizing. She's invested herself in the visual vocabulary of the story. It's all she can do. And then it's gone. It's a betrayal - a betrayal that seems to set the stage for a lifetime of betrayals. Which is what makes the whole thing so delightfully ballsy. Dr. Seuss thought of a lot of things, but he never thought of nothing

And then there’s the internet, as experienced by clueless new parents. There’s a whole big universe of bad advice, hysteria, and paranoia. It’s all the same kind of stuff I ran into when I got married. But this time it’s all jacked up on steroids. Every conceivable baby-related issue has the complete spectrum of perspective. There’s so much information, that really, there’s no information. Your kid has a cold? Do nothing. Do everything. There. Have fun. You have to take your kid on an eight-hour car ride? Well, Sally’s four month old slept the whole time, while Kelly’s four month old had perpetual diarrhea and needed to be changed at every other mile marker. Hope that helps. Daycare is a great starting point for the proper socializing of children, where kids meet diverse populations while building immunity. Daycare is a sad dumping ground for unwanted children, a seething cesspool of viral pathogens and sadistic old maids. Please help yourself to the most convenient point of view. Fortunately, Dr. Benjamin Spock’s famous advice turns out to be true; you really do know more than you think you do. Parenting is pretty straight-forward. You trust your instincts, experiences, and common sense, and find you almost always know what to do. Doing what you need to do isn't always easy, but it’s not surprising that our parents and our grandparents all made it to adulthood without the benefit of the internet. 

Onward. I have solved the mystery of faster than light speed travel. He’s how we voyage beyond our solar system with superluminal velocity. We make a huge baby. Then we put a spaceship loaded with people in that baby’s hand. Then the baby drops the spaceship and the people are inexplicable whisked away to impossible destinations at inconceivable speeds. I’m not kidding. My daughter can drop her pacifier in our living room and it will immediately end up on the floor of the back seat of the car that’s parked in the garage. It can’t be explained.

Oh, and now that I'm a father, I've become a ninja master at picking stuff up with my toes.

And here’s something that really changes when you have a kid. You’re on that long road trip with the wife and baby, and you smell something digestive and foul. You stare lovingly into wife’s eyes and say, “Please, honey, please tell me that was you. Please tell me that fetid rotten odor I smell is coming from you and not the baby. Nothing would bring me more joy right now than to know it was you who farted all disgusting like that.” 

Babies and TV. There are certain declarations I think all new parents make, about all the things their own baby will never do. It’s commonly know that these idealistic pre-baby notions don’t stand a chance of holding up in the real world. I don’t even bother to mention my daughter will never have an iPad out in a restaurant, or wear headphones while I’m driving her to school. I know all these things will happen. The laws of entropy cannot be circumvented. Every time one of my friends has a kid watching TV when I come over, they feel the need to explain themselves, to justify, to point out why today is special and different, and that generally, TV is forbidden. I guess I don’t want my five month old watching TV either. I don’t know why, if it’s a social taboo, or some powerful parenting intuition. But it does seem wrong. But she loves football. My nephew loved baseball when he was tiny. And I’m not about to stop watching football just because there’s a baby in the house. How else am I going get enough scratch together to send her to college if not through wagering on professional sports? She loves the lights and the cheering and the voices (not Joe Buck’s voice, of course). She also seems to like it when teams go for it on 4th down. Don’t we all. But is this wrong? Who decides what is right or wrong for a baby? Don’t leave that stuff up to me and my wife to decide. We’ll end up taking her wine tasting (again) or something. What if we let her watch football only on her stomach? She hates tummy time, but supposedly needs to do more of it. Can we use football as the carrot on the stick? Is that wrong? To literally treat my daughter like a stubborn ass? What does feel wrong is believing I’m above bribing and manipulating my daughter, or using potentially bogus concepts like the importance of tummy time in order to justify my own selfish behavior. I find this word selfish comes up a lot more now that I have a kid. I’m suddenly selfish a lot. I'm probably adapting to the changes in my life a little slower than I ought to. Oh well. On the other hand, ignoring yourself and your life and your own interests seems wrong too. I know people with kids who haven’t taken a picture of their spouse in five years. That’s not so great either.

At the five month mark I feel like I finally have enough perspective to look back at the question my wife and I asked ourselves for ten years. Should we have a kid? Having children, or even getting married to your partner are obviously no long givens in our world. For years I assumed I would never have kids. The problem with finding out if you should have a kid (or kids) is that you have to make the decision for yourself. It’s one of the few areas of life where other people really can’t help you at all. They can’t help you because, first of all, they’ll never be honest with you, especially if they hate their kids and their life. This is not something anyone will cop to. And a different kind of person might encourage you to have kids so they can watch you suffer, because misery loves company. Yet another type of person will tell you kids are great because they love all kids. But what if you hate kids? How do know if you will come around and love your own kid? What if you hate your own kid? What if you resent your hated kid for ruining your life? That can be a problem. Soooooo, the question: should I have a kid? My answer is yes. For me. And I now believe people when they say they love being a parent. I used to think they were bullshitting me. Now I know that’s impossible. But I’m almost 40, and I don’t miss much that’s changed. If I was 25 I’m sure I would feel differently. And my kid’s really cute. I don’t know what I’d do with an ugly baby. Give it away probably. 

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