“Well, it’s wonderful to have a baby in the house, eh?”
This was said to me by another dad at the local play-ground. It was meant as a closing salutation, as he gathered his toddlers together to go home for dinner.
I could see the flip side of his point- his kids were deaf to his commands. I’m certain that the colloquialism ‘as easy as herding cats’ was coined by a parent with toddlers. Still, what was meant as a pleasant goodbye left me perplexed. How, exactly, was it wonderful to have a baby in the house?
It was still early in our daughter’s life. I couldn’t even tell you how early. There are certain demarcations I can recall- when colic ended, mom going back to work, the first time she slept for 5 hours in a row- that are clear to me amongst the haze, but I don’t have any notion about when this conversation occurred. Must have been early. She wasn’t moving much, but she had opened her eyes.
“Wow”, the fellow said to me, “so she got her mother’s eyes, eh?”
Baby G is an attractive baby, in a Gerber sort of way. I’m proud of her for being cute, which is about all you get for the first six months. Still, I feel like we paid for it, somehow. “She has been quite the handful” is a nice way of saying “she was a f**king trial.” I love my kid.
You know what’s coming. Any time a parent says “I love my kid”, the next word is unfailingly “but.” It’s like the southern belle tendency to say anything nasty about anyone, as long as you tag the end of the statement with “bless her heart”, as in “Good Lord, did you see the way she and her man glowered at each other, I wonder if she’s having problems keeping him around after she got all ugly, bless her heart.”
I love my kid, bless her heart, but she was a nightmare in the beginning. Colicky and screaming, needing to be bounced on the giant Pilates ball for hours at a time, until we compressed our spines enough that we had to change our driver’s license stats. How could it be wonderful to have a baby around the house? No sleep, paranoia, no return on our investment in terms of affection. This was wonderful?!?
I was confused. We hadn’t slept in months. The baby didn’t DO ANYTHING, yet needed CONSTANT attention, lest she somehow died spontaneously through some sort of neglect on our parts. Now, crawling and shoving all sorts of choke-ables in her mouth at a rate of 12 per minute,-cat food kibble, shards of wood pulled off from tables, and in one scary moment an Advil that I had dropped- I have to wonder what we were worried about.
Parents of the most placid infants- described by Neal Pollack as ‘infant as vegetable’- have the hardest time with the transition. One minute, cute and stroller-ready, napping at predictable intervals, the next, bastions of destruction. I’d like to think that we went through the mess of colicky baby in order to gain an easier future, but I understand that this is crap. ‘Perfect’ infants do not exist, and even if they do, it’s fucking hard work anyway, even at their best. Another mess is coming, no doubt, and well to be Zen about it. I just wish blogging about it late at night was as easy as the real thing.
Take mornings, for example. I always want to vacuum. Actually, a better word might be ‘need’. I’m lazy, sure, but we all know that I drop dangerous stuff on the floor all the time. Our apartment is a rental, and the landlord hasn’t changed the carpets in fifteen years, so there are lots of stains. I’ve also thrown my pseudo- ethnic IKEA rugs all over the living room, and the complicated patterns make it hard to detect pieces of dangerous flotsam. These facts- compounded by the fact that our vacuum sucks only ass, not carpet, makes it hard to be thorough.
“Why won’t that bit get sucked up?!?” I’ll say exasperatedly.
“Oh, that’s an old burn from Chuck’s 34th birthday fondue party” says the Missus.
I hold the moral high ground- it wasn’t me, for once- for about a minute, until she points out the 47 surrounding stains were made by me in the course of six months. I’ll sigh, continue with a rather pathetic attempt to cover more carpet, which the Missus will redo when I’m out of the apartment later in the day and the kid is napping. I love my kid, bless her heart, but she is damn high maintenance. Considering that this is how I feel about just vacuuming, you can imagine how I felt after The Incident.
It was a long day, the day of the Incident. The Missus had taken her to her mother’s house, early, a house filled with a nippy Border collie, hardwood floors, trays of sea glass- a generally dangerous environment for someone who wants to crawl everwhere, shove everything in her mouth, and believes that all household pets enjoy being bodily yanked to the ground via handfuls of fur and loose skin. We have an enormously patient cat. We have to pretty much hold her for hours on end, and she gets impatient. It was a family dinner around the table.
“Can you hold her? For a minute, PLEASE? I have to eat something,” said the Missus to me, imploringly, with obvious undertones of frustration. I sometimes forget that I’m the other parent.
We were exhausted coming home, but the baby was wound up, as she hadn’t crawled around for several hours. The Missus did the normal thing, which was to unwrap the kid from her diapers and let her loose. We air her out from time to time, to keep her from getting diaper rash, and it works- she hasn’t gotten it yet. Still, there are obvious risks.
“Pee is sterile” we said to each other, understanding that we lived in a rental. “Who cares if she pees on the carpet?”
Mom let her loose into her special colorful pop-up ‘house’ that takes up half of our bedroom. It has little windows and flowers, and she looks very cute in it. Since it is closed in on three sides, you can run to pee or move some books without worrying that she will brain herself
The Missus probably needed to scratch or move laundry around or some such minutia of the daily day, and she did, while the child played quietly in her house for all of 30 seconds.
I don’t know how she managed to shit, forget that she had shat, and decide that this lump of interesting creamy brown goodness must be a Scooby snack from God, but she did. Shove. Feces. Into. Her. Mouth.
“What smells like shit?” the Missus wondered.
She checked her ass- no evidence of feces- and then the baby started retching.
“Honey!” she cried, “there is something wrong with the baby, she’s puking, I think OH MY GOD THERE IS SHIT IN HER MOUTH, FUCK, CHECK THE FUCKING THING! THE FUCKING THING!”
Thirty seconds ago she was trying to change her diaper. All was calm. Now, her mouth was filled with feces. And the Missus was screaming for me to find the source of her deathly ailment with unspecific directions. I responded with an equal level of panic and an aggrieved attitude.
“WHAT! FUCKING! THING! TELLMEWHICHFUCKINGTHINGYOU MEAN!”
“THEFUCKINGHOUSE! IS THERE FECES IN THE HOUSE!”
“IT”S A BIG FUCKING HOUSE! WE LIVE IN A BIG FUCKING HOUSE!”
“NOT THE BIG HOUSE, THE LITTLE HOUSE!”
I reached into the little house blindly, putting my hand squarely on the remainder of her crap, it squishing between my fingers like warm cookie dough.
“I FOUND THE SHIT!” I screamed.
I called poison control, while the Missus sort of spit-hosed her mouth out, a combination of mouth-to-mouth and power washing windows. As bad as this seemed to all of us, I think the kid got the, um, shit-covered end of the stick. She ate feces, retched, had her mouth scooped out and then forcibly spat into, endured a screaming session that ended in an enforced shower, something she no longer tolerates since she discovered baths. She was miserable.
Here’s the weird thing: I think, through all of this, I finally understood what the man at the playground was saying that day. Watching him look at us, look back at his toddlers- running around like waltzing mice, rubbing their heads on the slide, screaming about going home, – I saw an outline of the future. One day, my own kid would be capable of defiance and self-interest. She would not have the right snacks, she wouldn’t want to pee before getting in the car- whatever. Now, though, she has all of her innocence still intact. I can’t imagine she had any notion that her own shit would taste like, well, shit, and that that would lead to a shitstorm of parent intevention, fingers down her throat, someone spitting water in her mouth, and breath that smelled and tasted shitty for the next 12 hours. She had no idea, and so you can’t blame her. It is horrible to have to call the poison control center, explaining that someone that shares genetic material with you has just consumed their own feces. I can forgive her instantly, though, and empathize. That could not have been fun. When she is willful, throwing tantrums, being deliberate about causing trouble, I’m sure I will look back and think,
”Man. It was sure wonderful to have a baby in the house.”