Fountains of Milk and Honey: Denoument

Dad spills Gold on the Baby: Fountains of Milk and Honey

I really didn’t think I could screw up any further, but I often underestimate myself.

A couple months in to the solo babydaddying gig, I thought I had my deal down pat. We had a routine which involved long walks with all sorts of complicated baby equipment. I wore two natural rubber pacifiers on my left hand, a sort of ‘baby daddy bling’, had the Bjorn baby carrier on my chest, the Ergo baby carrier around my waist, the Uppababy stroller in gear with an attached toy-strip that wrapped around the stroller roll-bar, a fully stocked diaper bag with a porta-poop mat on the lower deck of the stroller, and the special pocket filled with bottles, chilled breast milk, and supplementary canisters of formula, should the need arise.

That’s right, formula. We feed the baby formula, and we are not ashamed.

Breast milk is good stuff, no doubt. Yes it is a perfectly balanced nutrition plan for infants- just the right measures of fats, carbohydrates and protein for little hairless monkeys. There are fancy technical reasons to prefer it over formula, one huge one being that it contains the mother’s antibodies for infectious diseases, an abstraction that came vividly into focus the week we all got the stomach flu, expelling wretchedness out of all ends. This is an affliction that requires hours of gut wrenching speculation about which orifice about should be pointed toward the toilet bowl. The ‘Flush and Flip’ I’ve heard it called. We all lost weight that week.

Problem was, the baby was a little on the thin side. Not because of the flu- she did spit up pretty good, but we put her on the boob* for a good 12 hours straight, and she ended up fine- but possibly because I was so worked up over dumping so much milk that I was paying more attention to conserving it, rather than making sure she ate enough.

Now, I wasn’t starving her or anything, but the pediatrician did say she could use a few more ounces, which we, as sleep deprived parents of an infant heard as “We’re sending in Child Services because you are AWFUL FUCKING PEOPLE, how could you DO THIS TO YOUR OWN FUCKING CHILD?!?!?.” We are much better now that she is sleeping through the night, thank you.

While all the goodness of breast milk is well deserved, there is a point when you need to let it go.  In fact, parenting is an enormously effective exercise in letting go of being ‘right’ although the process can be painful. Sometimes the person who really needs to be right is a petulant 13-year old who always got picked last in gym class. Of course, I could be speaking only for myself on this one.

ANYWAY, we bit the bullet and purchased formula, a move that we at the time equated with the same gravitas as dropping her off with her senile, meth-addled, wheel-chair bound insane auntie who lived in a trailer park with her PTSD veteran boyfriend Rick on our way out to Hit it Big in Vegas. Paranoia sucks.

We did our formula homework. We studied ingredient lists meticulously. We even considered making our own organic formula from the Nourishing Traditions primer.

“Where the fuck do you even get the reproductive stigma and styles of the Himalayan Crescent Flower?!?” I asked, “Is there a website or something?”

“Either grow some boobs or suck it up.”, replied the Missus, “You’re the one who’s got to cry over spilled milk.”

We settled on some organic brand with a name carefully crafted to soothe paranoid parents, “ Nature’s Whole Earth Balance” or some such bs. We studied the ingredient list meticulously.

“Coconut oil?”, I said, “Really? That seems like a weird thing to put in breast milk.”

Back to the thread. I was walking back home after the morning outing with the Bean. We had visited the library, seen our people at the coffee shop, watched the children at the playground in a very instructional way, and were now coming up the stairs to our rent controlled apartment, her just shaking off the morning nap and getting ready for a feed, me gripping the stairway hand rail like death, should a dog materialize via Star Trek beam and somehow send us toppling down the stairs. I hadn’t shaken off the Grandma incident quite yet.

“Are you hungry Boo?” I asked her, “Yes, very nice it’s time to eat!” I extolled to her in a fake French accent, because that’s how we do.

I still had her breast milk in a bottle, and I was mixing up a bit of formula to supplement her feed. The pediatrician suggested mixing the two to get her used to the flavors. We had  a routine in which we gradually flipped the measure of the breast milk/formula ratio more towards the latter as the day went on.

We used a good amount of breast milk that day. Our routine tended towards many outings, walks to the park, visits to the library and various cameos up and down Clement street, the breast milk would get a bit shook up just from the vibrations of the stroller. I was prepared for this – I now understood that the little accretions of stuff on the sides of the bottle were just mom-butter and mom-butter is actually wonderful stuff for a growing child.

“She can go ahead and eat the globs” I said out loud to myself, mostly because I needed someone to talk to, and I was the only available person who spoke English. “That sort of stuff is good for her”. I had her on my lap, cross-legged on the couch, in the proper nurturing position that Mom had read about in one of the books. Things went fine for a while, until the plug occurred.

To understand the plug, we need to note that the people that make bottles are clever. I don’t know how they organize the whole deal- the mass-production of  silicon nipples- but each of them has a hole small enough to mimic the milk flow of an actual breast, or so parents are assured.

Here’s the problem- the holes are small. Small enough to easily get clogged by chunks of butter, and if you are bottle-feeding your kid, you watch the little chunk slowly slip down the inner side of the nipple, plug the pore, and begin the skin-tightening panic reaction that precedes a Howling.

“Shit!” I said to my alter-ego, the one who lives in a parallel universe without an infant, “How the fuck am I going to fix this?!?”

I needed an answer really quickly. The kid was Howling, AGAIN. I decided on force.

I stuck the nipple in my mouth and sucked hard enough to dislodge the chunk of butter, dragging along a measure of her food into my mouth.

“Hmmm,” I thought “ I guess they really do put a lot of coconut in the formula, ‘cause it sure is sweet. Or maybe that’s justththtbbbtbtbt!!!“

I suddenly realized I was eating breast milk, freaked out, and spit it out, messily, spattering the baby with chunks of her food. I immediately felt bad, and then remembered how much of my life was dedicated to cleaning up all the milk she puked on me. I relaxed.

“All cleared up, kid”, I said “Want to keep eating?”

She did, and we did, until the second chunk of butter slid down the side of the nipple.

Now, whenever the Missus tries to patiently explain to me something that I feel I already know, my stock response is “You know I have a college degree, right?” It falls flat here though.

I have a degree in biology. Anyone with a degree in science- an actual technical deal, mind you, not social science or some such Freudian bullshit- will be inordinately proud that they finished said degree, because it is fucking hard and technical and complicated and they still remember both Calculus and Statistics and had a notion that if they made it through those classes, they would somehow be rich. When the money isn’t forthcoming, they hold on to some measure of intellectual superiority to replace it, insisting they are correct in all circumstances as a replacement for all the money they were promised.

I am such a person, to no end of annoyance to the Missus. Even when she is gone and I have no one to argue with, I still insist I am right to the Cat.

“I don’t think you understand”, I’ll say to him, “ But you have a brain the size of a walnut. I forgive you. “

If I were right all the time, and my expensive and difficult education did shit, I would’ve understood these very simple facts:

  • If you are trying to avoid eating more breast milk by blowing into a very small nipple hole, you will end up pressurizing the container.
  • If you remove said pressurized container from your mouth, it will be pressurized. Duh.
  • It may not be obvious at first- what is escaping while the bottle is air, while it is upright.
  • It will become obvious when you point the bottle downward,  toward the baby.

Don’t have reasonable aim, either, if you can avoid it. A baby’s face is pretty small, and I do need to say my aim is almost true. I managed a steady hand. I assessed the situation quickly, locked her in my crosshairs, and sent a steady stream of nourishment directly into her right eyeball.

——————-

Dunston Baby Language- a DVD that purports to be able to help translate infant gurgling into actual language,   will have me believe I should have understood that  “AHHHHHHHHGGGGHHRRGH” meant “WHATTHEFUCKAREYOUDOINGDAAAAAADTHISISFUCKINGINNNAPPPPPPROPRIATE!” or some  nonsence that these folks use to fleece desperate new parents. I kind of got the point. I don’t think you get to spare your child any pain- you just get to ride the same roller-coaster they do, designed and built by parents without degrees in roller-coaster-building. Anyone who tells you different is lying to you, exploiting your  desperate need to hold on to a  former world that once was in your control, your groping for a fountain of youth to bring you back to a time when things last made sense, when you weren’t captaining a baby barge through a fog of  zero visibility.

Still, the silence- when it comes- is golden.

* And by “we” I mean the Missus. I had been gone for three straight days for a Yoga Teacher Training retreat, came back, and promptly fell out puking for 24 hours. After doing all household duties for another 2 days, she woke me up around midnight for her puke session. She kept on asking how long this hell lasted, as none of us had slept this little since the baby was born, and we weren’t even puking then. I didn’t have the heart to tell her,  so I kept on saying “ Soon, really soon.” When she yacked for the last time the following afternoon, I said “Now it’s REALLY over. You’re done. It fits the timeline.” She said “Thank Fucking God, I’m SO fucking tired, I could not DO this again!”,  seconds before the baby puked copiously all over her front. She started wailing and crying, sat in her chair, and slapped the kid on the boob, sobbing into her hand. I love my Missus.

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Published in: on July 16, 2010 at 6:20 PM  Leave a Comment  

Fountains of Milk and Honey: Part II

Dad Spills Gold Part 4: The first buttermilk problem.

I should have known. I understand, conceptually, that butter is made from milk. I even know it practically: When I was doing all the science labs at an elementary school, I had the kids all bring in empty glass jars, which we filled with cream. We shook them, making 30 individual flavors of butter, from ‘faintly like pickles’ flavor to ‘faintly like concord grape jelly’ butter, even ‘faintly and most nauseatingly like Prego spaghetti sauce’ butter.

I don’t know how I forgot. OK, I know exactly how I forgot, because when confronted with a fresh baby that you have little or no idea how to tend, you forget EVERYTHING else, including anything you did with your life previously, basic math, and any reason why you wouldn’t walk to the store in your underpants if it was warm enough.

It was only week two of solo babydaddying. I should not have been so cocksure as to actually drive somewhere with the baby, but whatever. I did it. We had a date with grandma.

Oh, we did have fun, romping up and down the hills of Sausalito, commenting on the poor taste of the owners of multi-million dollar homes, Critics of the Rich and Famous, all the while pushing a rickety slap-dash pram, composed of the frame of an old stroller with the car seat belted to it ( not to say it wasn’t a fantastic gizmo- thanks Zan!-  but probably not seen that often in a neighborhood where even the nannies drive the parents’ beemers.)

The baby was cheerful, the weather was sunny and all was good. It was a little hot, though, and I began suspecting that the milk I had brought with me was going off. I didn’t get it- I was constantly shaking it to make sure the fat globules mixed in well with the rest of the milk, using the same vigor I would to warm up a can of spray paint. Still, though, there were these little congealed bits coating the sides, looking suspiciously oily. What was up? I shook and shook and shook, but there just seemed to be more of them.

I decided to not worry. The milk didn’t smell off, and besides I had other things to worry about. The baby needed a diaper change right now, and I hadn’t tried out the ‘porta-change’ table. I would need all my concentration for that. I managed, feeling fairly proud of myself, and just needed to clean up.

“Could you hold her for a sec?” I asked Grandma.

I won’t go into the details of how baby and grandma fell down concrete stairs, except to say it involved a dog, another dog and a small crown of onlookers who, along with Dad, all chimed in with a collective hiss of indrawn breath as we watched the two tumble. To assuage your fears, the baby was fine.

Fine physically, I should say. Grandma, to her credit, managed a mid-air pirohoutte and landed without squishing the baby, but oh, the BABY DID HOWL.

There is no other greater way to realize you are an actual parent then to have these two thoughts in quick succession: ‘Oh, God, someone should DO something!’ and ‘Oh GOD that SOMEONE is ME!

I ran over, picked up the baby, quick checked in with Grandma to make sure she wasn’t dead and checked out the Bean. Yes, HOWLING, but no marks, and after a beat, I realized howling was a good thing, as it meant she was scared, but not knocked silly. Her pupils weren’t dilated, and she didn’t seem woozy. I figured I needed to check her faculties. As the only thing she could really do at that point was eat, shit and sleep, I decided we had to try one of them.

“I want to see if she’ll eat,” I told Grandma.

“Do you trust me to hold her?”

I may have balked for a second, but really it was the dog’s fault, and she was tied up now.

“Ok, yes”, I said pulling out the bottle….

WHICH WAS ALL WRONG. Globs of oily everywhere! Stuff that would make her PUKE!! It was SPOILED SPOILED SPOILED, I was sure of it, and I HAD to see if she would EAT!

“OK, I’ve got to warm up the other bottle!”

I ran to the bathroom,  dumped the first milk down the sink, hurriedly ran the spare under the faucet to take off the chill and ran out to feed her. She took the milk, I breathed a sigh of relief and shuttled her off the doctor’s office, just to be sure. We got home just before Mom got home from work, and I had already decided to get the Bean into her hands so she could see she was safe and sound before I told her anything. She came in the door and I handed her the baby, probably smiling a little too much, and watched them settle into their favorite chair.

“So, uh, how was work today?”, I said, preparing to drop the bomb.

“Oh my God, my BABY, I miss her so MUCH!” She said, bursting into hysterical tears.

“Oh. Dear. Um.” I said.

After her separation anxiety subsided, I finally managed to spit out the events of the day. I was apologizing profusely when her mother called in the middle of my confession, apologizing profusely. She was remarkably calm throughout.

“She’s fine. You are fine. It was an accident, and you handled it well.”

I exhaled.

“I’m so glad you aren’t mad.”

I think I may have even felt a little proud, so I went into more detail about how careful I was, especially with switching up the bad milk.

“You did WHAT?!?” she said.

“Oh. Dear.Um.” I replied.

To be continued……

Published in: on July 12, 2010 at 2:26 PM  Leave a Comment  

Fountains of Milk and Honey

I’ve had some problems with the breast milk thing, being a stay-at-home dad. They started early, when I was first asked to taste it.

“Why not?” said the Missus, “It’s perfectly natural.”

It’s perfectly natural for INFANTS. Not men. It won’t hurt ,I’m sure, but it feels like stealing candy from the mouths of  babes. The whole ‘breast’ thing is odd enough. Once, they were titties, a rack, bodacious ta-ta’s- now they are ‘mammary glands’, a proper scientific nomenclature to distance themselves from their former glory as mesmerizing tandem man-magnets, and I use the term ‘man’ loosely, as just being a titty-chaser hardly qualifies. I get that, while I can still engage them on the rare night that the kid is asleep and we aren’t exhausted (never), they are now serving their god-intended purpose, and I should not interfere. Like my friend B says,

“Boobs are like toy trains- they’re for the kids, really, but dad gets to play with them once in a while.”

I explained as much to the Missus, my reasoning being that now that I was a Man, I no longer trafficked in the realm of breasts. She was having none of it. Having grown up with boys, she knew how to press my buttons.

“Are you scared?”, she said.

“Hmmmph”, I said, licking my fingers, “Tastes like coconut.”

_______

Outside of my own feelings- and they are supremely important, as I am a dedicated egoist, and only able to even conceive of the phrase ‘outside of my own feelings’ because I can type it- here’s the thing: getting milk to the kid is tough.

Sure, you can freeze breast milk. In theory, this should do just fine, and as I am  a dedicated freezer of things- hoping someday that when the apocalypse comes, bread riots and cannibalism included, we will somehow still have an intact apartment and electricity and enjoy sesame asian stir-fry greens from the organic farm- I’m happy to fold in the kiddie entrees.

The milk, though- It didn’t go quite like I planned. We started off with 30 little baggies of frozen milk on the day that Mom went back to work.

Dad Spills Liquid Gold: Part 1: Four baggies down.

You would think that, being trained up in biology, that I would have a notion of what is in milk. I do, but all that goes out the window when confronted with a fresh baby, along with any vocabulary that isn’t monosyllabic.

You forget. You panic. If it is your first day of solo parenting and you decide to take the kid miles from home in the stroller because you think she might like the view from Inspiration Point, or at least you will because it’s nine hours with the kid and you have to do something, then keep your head straight and keep the baby out of the sun, and make sure you have enough milk with you for the long journey.  If you don’t, it may be possible that she will start crying, and if she starts crying then you have to pull out your magic weapon of soothingness, yes the BOTTLE, it’s just like mom’s breast, all squishy and milky, oh god, what’s wrong, why won’t you stop crying is it ME, am I hurting you, why oh why did I take you so far from home, you will HATE me forever, there is PAIN! You’re in PAIN! I’ve done something wrong?!?! Is it the wrong BOTTLE?!?! Is it something in the MILK??!?? LET ME SEE THAT, oh god, SORRY HONEY but daddy has to look at the milk, and OH MY FUCKING GOD WHAT ARE THOSE YELLOW GLOBULES???!!!??!?!?!

I like to think I’m a good dad, picking up the slack when I can, including cooking delicious soup. As we live in the Richmond district of San Francisco, informally known as ‘new chinatown’, the soup tends toward the asian ingredients we can get cheaply. You know the stuff, Pho or beef curry noodle or Tom Yum- basically any soup with absolutely deliciously SPICY oil floating on the top, gorgeous lava-lamp amorphous yellow …globules…!

All I know, in that moment, was that my brain left it’s skull, grabbed the time machine cab, hurried home in a Star Trek Beam Me Up Scotty Flashback moment, and watched myself just 5 hours earlier, washing the dishes from last night’s dinner while preparing the baby’s bottle at the same time. I was burning off the inside of her delicate mouth! She would never eat milk again and STARVE STARVE STARVE!!!

After running home 2.2 miles ( I looked it up) with a half-screaming, half-sleeping (the stroller vibrations put her right out, as I learned that day, although I was sure I had put her in a coma) baby, dumped the offensive concoction down the sink and hurridly defrosted another bag (date 2/03, 1.5 oz., name: Kopke) into a new bottle and examined it for weirdness, I found OH NO! WEIRD YELLOW GLOBULES! FUCK! I DIDN”T Even…cook,……..soup………………..that day. “

Yes. Ahem. So. Milk is fatty. Milk, in fact, doesn’t look like it does at the grocery store. I think we all know that, really, cream floats to the top and any sort of homey parables we can attribute to this, but really- in the moment- you forget.

“You dumped HOW MUCH milk out today?!?”  said the missus.

“Jeez, can we leave it alone, please?” I implored, “talk about it tomorrow?”

Dad Spills Gold, Part 2: (one more baggie down)

“So how much do we have left?”, she said the next morning(26 baggies),  “Can’t you be more careful?”

“I AM being careful!” I screeched, punctuating the ‘AM’ by slapping whatever was in my hand on the kitchen counter.

One more baggie down.

Dad Spills Gold Part 3: ( another baggie down)

“Oh, JEEZUS FUCK, are you serious?!?!? REALLY?!?” she said, looking at the shards of broken plastic Gerber Ziplock baggie and melting breast milk.

“Look” , I say, prescient, already defrosting another bag in warm water while my hands are still free and another person is in the room holding the baby, “ It’s not my fault. That’s just shoddy workmanship, the way that bag cracked. Really, can you blame ME?”, said I, throwing aside my arms aside in an expansive-why-is the-whole-world-against-me gesture that knocks a mess of milk and tepid water smearing across the counter.

To be continued…

Published in: on July 10, 2010 at 5:24 PM  Comments (2)