Nobody tells you the truth. Every parent upends buckets of advice upon the new parent’s head, because, not for nothing, they’ve accumulated knowledge both good and bad that they feel is best to share. But what they never tell you as you’re building a crib or painting a nursery or buying a small desert island comprising a hundred boxes of Pampers Swaddlers is this:
“You’re building the walls of your own prison. And the baby, the baby is the warden. Oh, he’s a cherub-cheeked warden, all right. He’s cute. Chipmunk cheeks packing love and adorability the way real chipmunks store acorns. But don’t misunderstand. He’ll run you ragged. He’ll punish you when you least expect it. And you can’t predict it. Can’t understand it. Because what we got here… is a failure to communicate.”
* * *
The way this kid eats and destroys our sleep, he should be a goddamn Batman villain.
The Catnap Killer. Doctor Hypnos. Mister Dozer.
The Sinister Sandboy.
* * *
Seems right now he’s maybe going through a growth spurt. That’s what all the Internet forums say. Of course, all the Internet forums say we’re probably three days away from accidentally smothering our child with crib bumpers or improbably infecting him with some kind of Baby Smallpox. The Internet is rarely a place to find sanity, but even still: most concur that three weeks is the time of a growth spurt, but right now it just feels like the only thing that’s growing is the child’s propensity to be a tiny pink dictator.
(And remember, the root word of “dictator” is “dick.”)
Yesterday it’s like someone stuck a crank in his back and just kept on winding it.
Cranky, cranky, cranky.
Oh, the tears.
The lobster-faced apoplexy.
He wants to eat. All the time. GIVE ME THE BOOB, tiny dictator cries. He pounds the teat the way a frothing professor pounds his lectern. He grabs for it with witch nails. He draws it close in his taloned grip.
You know he’s hungry. Because he’ll try to eat anything. He shark-bites his own fists. He’ll gum my thumb. He’ll even try to eat my beard. Which is not recommended in any of the baby books. Especially since I save food in my beard like a diligent hobo should.
It’s every hour. The storm of cluster feeding.
With each lightning strike, the baby descends once more to feed.
The lone piranha must eat enough for his whole concatenation.
* * *
We’re supplementing. With formula. Doctor’s orders. He wasn’t gaining enough weight, she said. I mean, he wasn’t some tiny peanut, either, some little kewpie doll. But of course he didn’t conform to somebody’s magical chart that says ALL BABIES ARE LIKE THIS ALWAYS FOREVER AND EVER. Those that don’t conform to the Chart of Truth must submit for re-education immediately. She scares us with the comment, “We don’t want him to have a failure to thrive.” A failure to thrive sounds like the next thing to, y’know, death. “This is our child: the limp weed that clings to life but never flourishes. Don’t hug him too closely. He may crumble like an over-baked cookie.”
With formula, he did gain weight and gain length. (And not all of it in his penis. BA-DUM-BUM. I’m here all week. Don’t forget to try the swordfish. And the vodka.)
Even still, after two weeks of gaining, the doc still wants us to supplement.
Then we wonder: maybe she’s a shill for the formula companies. She goes home and goes into her bedroom and rolls around on all that sweet-ass Similac money. Big Formula sends her kids to school.
You look online — remember: never a good idea — breastfeeding advocates will make it very clear that supplementing is a death sentence. That we can now expect our child to be a rubicund, languid fatty sitting on a throne made of Happy Meals, his body lubricated by the grease of French Fries, his toddler diabetes running rampant through him like a wildfire. I’m surprised nobody’s linked it to autism yet. That’s another fun one. In the baby world, everything causes autism. Mercury. HFCS. Plastic toys. Chinese nipples. Funny looks from Mom. Dog hair. Oaken cribs. Rain on Tuesdays.
So, we straddle worlds between breast milk and formula.
Pariahs to both.
* * *
Formula makes him gassy. Where before his poop smelled like buttered popcorn drizzled with caramel (no, really), now it smells more like, well, poop. He’s gassy like an old man is gassy. After eating Brussel sprouts. And his own poop. I don’t even know how the tiny human can be this gassy. I couldn’t let that much air out of a balloon. Formula helps to defeat a child’s protective defense. A baby’s breast-fed effluence smells pleasant so we don’t decide, “You know what? This kid stinks, I’m going to go throw him in a river somewhere.” Formula removes that protection. It’s good we don’t have a river nearby.
* * *
I kid, of course. I would never throw my child in a river.
I would put him in a box labeled FREE KITTENS.
Or maybe that’s not exotic enough.
* * *
*punches the Internet*
* * *
We are, like most parents, deeply concerned about SIDS. Everything is SIDS this, SIDS that. Everything “causes” SIDS. Don’t do this. Don’t do that. No crib bumpers. No toys. No crib sheet. If you don’t appease the beast with the ritual sleeping configuration, it shall steal into your home at the stroke of midnight and steal thine child’s breath, and it shall use the stolen breath as a perfume for his own shadowy daughters.
Don’t let him sleep in bed. Don’t let him sleep in the car seat. Don’t let him sleep duct-taped to the ceiling. Don’t let him sleep in a lion’s mouth. (Well who else is going to clean the lion’s teeth?)
They say, no sleep positioners. Of course, our nurse tells us to feel free to prop him up with rolled up blankets — a no-no in SIDSlandia — and in propping him up we’re stopping him from rolling over and, y’know, contracting SIDS. So in attempting to defeat the demon we are simultaneously inviting the demon into our home. SIDS if you do. SIDS if you don’t.
Some people say that our baby shouldn’t be able to roll over yet.
They don’t know our baby. The kid is like a tumbling boulder chasing after Indiana Jones.
They say, well, then, swaddle him. Swaddle him up tight.
They still don’t know our baby. Our baby is fucking Houdini. He’s not supposed to be able to get his arms free? Fuck you, he can get his arms free. He flexes his body, wriggling and writhing, until finally one hand sneaks out the top like a worm popping out of an apple. And with one free it’s not long before the other is free, too — a pair of Devil’s hands undoing all our good work. And inviting the SIDS angel with a come-hither finger.
This is one time when the Internet actually helped lessen my fear. I decided to actually look up SIDS, and it’s not what everyone seems to think it is. It’s very rare. It’s a diagnosis of exclusion. It also necessitates that other factors be in play beyond merely, “Oh, shit, I let my baby sleep on his tummy and OH GOD THE SHADOW MAN CAME AT NIGHT AND STOLE HIS ESSENCE.”
I’m not saying you shouldn’t protect against it, but it feels like I’m shouting at the tides.
* * *
We have people over who want to see him, and nine times out of ten he’s in a coma when they get here. Sure. Fine. Nice. That’s when he sleeps. I say to them, he’s like the tigers at the zoo. You go to the zoo you want to see the tigers doing all kinds of bitchin’ tiger shit. Chasing goats. Eating Himalayan explorers. Playing with a massive ball of yarn. Watching funny cat videos on the Internet.
But when you get there, all they’re doing is sleeping on a rock.
B-Dub is like that. When you get here to the Baby Zoo, he’s gone. Oblivious to the world.
Dull as a saucer of cold milk.
* * *
Just moments ago, his reward for a long cluster feeding session was to throw up on his mother.
I suspect this will be a theme for the next 18 years.
“Thanks for the car keys, Dad. To pay you back I stole your Laphroaig Scotch. Dude, that stuff tastes like the burned pubes of a swamp hag. Also, I threw up in the glove compartment. See ya!” VROOOM.
* * *
I say all this but the reality is, it’s worth it. All the spit-up and screaming and arcs of golden urine and sleeplessness and madness. All of it does little to defeat his puckish smiles, his big eyes, his searching tiny fingers, his waggling monkey toes, his look he gets when he sleeps where he laughs like he’s remembering a joke he heard (“remember when I was coming out of the womb? yeah, good times”), his discovery of his feet, his coos and burbles, his gurgles and coyote yips, his funny faces, his Daddy look where he cocks one eyebrow and looks at you like you’ve lost your goddamn mind, his squirms and wiggles and flails.
All of it, the sheer measure of adorability.
Like a baby seal, we cannot club him.
* * *
“I said, what we have here is a failure to communic OH MY GOD YOU ARE SO CUTE I WANT TO PINCH YOUR CHEEKS AND PUT BUTTER ON THEM AND EAT THEM UP NOM NOM NOM.”
I guess we’re keeping him.