HOW TO SURVIVE A BAD BABY, VOLUME II

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Sooner or later, it occurs to every dad that this whole having a baby thing might not have been the greatest idea. That thought occurred to me pretty much every day because my son Matt was the worst baby who ever lived.

His specialty was waiting for my more vulnerable moments and then striking suddenly like a submerged crocodile ambushing a wading wildebeest. For instance, in restaurants he’d always wait until the food was actually served before making his move. Until then, other customers would gurgle over my cute, smiling, seemingly innocent baby. But I knew the truth: he was waiting for the trap to be baited.

As soon as the waiter would set the plate in front of me, Matt’s eyes would lock on mine. I’d pick up the fork, and he’d just stare. It wasn’t until the first forkful was an inch from my mouth that he’d let fly with one of his screaming, Tasmanian devil tantrums, and I’d have to rush him outside.

One night, we went out to eat at a nice restaurant with some visiting friends. I was starving, so, rather than take howling Matt outside right away, I quickly choked down several mouthfuls of food. It couldn’t have taken two minutes, but already the other customers were glowering at me. And as I reached across the table to pick up Matt, I knocked over a glass of red wine onto the white table cloth, which prompted the smirking guy at the next table to applaud. My friend sprang up and rushed toward him shouting, ”Yeah, you like that? You want me to knock over your wine glass?”

Just another fun-filled, relaxing night out with the family.

On airplanes, he was Mr. Charm until we were wheels up. As for what happened in the air, suffice it to say that when we finally de-planed every passenger took extra time to give us an angry glare, I had a Mount Vesuvius headache, and my wife was usually crying.

But it was on our road trips to visit my parents in Houston that Matt would paint his masterpieces. It was three hours trapped in our tiny car with a blaring air-raid siren in the backseat.

One late night, there was only one empty intersection with one last red light between us and my parents’ house, and I couldn’t take it anymore; I took a gamble and ran that light as big as Dallas.

As I watched the police officer walk slowly toward our car, I was sure Matt would stop crying in order to avoid giving me any advantage in the coming negotiations. But, because we had stopped and we weren’t immediately letting him out, he started crying even louder.

I rolled the window all the way down – to give the officer the full air-raid siren effect – and handed him my license. He grimaced, and then looked up at the sky, swinging his head around as if on the lookout for dive bombing Stukas. Then he shined his flashlight through Matt’s window and stared for several seconds as Matt struggled to rip apart his car seat straps like a hysterical Superman trying to free himself from kryptonite restraints.

“How long has he been like that?” he asked.

“All the way since Corpus,” I told him.

Still staring at Matt, he handed me back my license, told me to drive carefully, turned, and hurried back to his cruiser. Score one for dad.

All grown up now, Matt left home for good a couple of weekends ago. Ever since, the silence has been driving me mad. More than anything, I hate it when the world is round.

Just Another Childbirth, No Big Deal

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As I watched the most beautiful girl in her class walk across the stage to collect her college diploma, I thought back to the first time I saw her 22 years ago.

Her mother and I had driven to the hospital very early that morning, running red lights (!) the whole way, but the doctor sent us home because she wasn’t far enough along. So we’d spent the rest of the day trudging up and down hills and walking around and around our apartment complex trying to speed things up, but nothing  seemed to work. When I told her I’d read about a woman who had climbed stairs carrying two heavy suitcases until things started moving along, she made a face, rolled her eyes, and went to bed.

By then it was 10 at night, and I was hungry. I searched the freezer and found a lobster frozen in a tube of seawater that I’d bought months before as a joke. I dropped it into a pot of boiling water and instantly the entire apartment reeked like Boston Harbor at low tide. That did it. She came into the kitchen, green at the gills, and announced we were immediately going back to the hospital. (More red lights!)  We were broke and had no insurance, so the plan was natural child birth: in and out of the hospital in 24 hours.

At first it was kind of fun. They put us in a homey “birthing room”, MTV was on, and the doctors and nurses were laughing and making jokes. Then about 4 in the morning the laughter stopped.  The baby’s blood pressure was too high and there was some danger the umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck. Suddenly the comfy bed turned into a gurney, and I was running beside it careening toward an operating room.

The doctor gave my wife one more chance to push. She tried, but she was too far gone. The half asleep anesthesiologist on call ran in, his bare feet covered by blue doctor’s footies. Trays and other equipment were quickly wheeled in, and several O.R. nurses appeared. The prep for the C-section looked like something being thrown together at the last minute, which is exactly what it was.

A nurse noticed my ashen gray, sweaty face, quickly grabbed my arm, and dragged me back to the birthing room. A low pitched, keening sound I’d never made before or since emerged involuntarily from the back of my throat. “It always looks like that,” she assured me, “but they know what they‘re doing.” She left, and after a few minutes of taking deep breaths and feeling ashamed because I’d left my wife alone, I staggered back to the operating room. I held my wife’s hand and tried to appear calm. There was a ripping sound, a baby’s cry, and the doctor happily shouted, “How about a girl?” Nurses rushed the baby off and I was led back to the birthing room.

After a while, they took me to see my daughter. There she was in a clear plastic basinet with a McDonald’s warming light overhead. The nurse picked her up and handed her to me. I stared into those sky blue eyes, and saw everything all at once: loving, smiling, sleeping, laughing, crying, crawling, walking, falling, rising, running, playing, learning, dreaming, studying, leaving, graduating, working, struggling, marrying, mothering, nurturing, worrying, aging, dying, and loving.

As for me, my beloved, insatiable, all consuming self shattered like a windowpane hit by a Nolan Ryan fastball, and all that remained was the perfect baby girl I held in my arms.

How To Survive A Bad Baby, Volume I

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Erin, our first, came along as welcome as a spring rain and as gently as the morning dew. She slept through the night, rarely cried, and gave us a smile when we needed one. Matt, our second, not so much. Among the many long, horrible nights he put us through, one still haunts my fading memory.

I was torn from a deep sleep at 4 a.m. by the blare of a 7-month old mini-siren and the mournful sound of my wife crying. Claire was standing beside the bed holding Matt, who had begun wailing when the obstetrician smacked him on the rear and hadn’t stopped since. Tonight, he was really rocking the house. When he was like this, we both knew the only way to calm him down was to take him for a drive. But I was too exhausted to get behind the wheel, and a co-worker had recently shared a brilliant scheme that she swore always worked with her baby.

I got out of bed, threw on some shorts, staggered out to the Subaru, returned with Matt’s car seat, put it on top of the clothes dryer, put the screaming kid in the car seat, and turned on the dryer. Miraculously, he immediately quieted down. I stared in prideful wonder at the vibrating baby, like Edison at his glowing bulb. Claire gave me a little hug, and we smiled contentedly at each other. Matt instantly saw that for the first time in his life he’d done something to make his parents happy, so he reared back and doubled the previous volume and intensity of his screams. Just then, our long-suffering neighbors in the apartment next door began banging on the wall.

Resigned to my fate, I carried Matt in his car seat to the Subaru and strapped him into the back seat. The tiny car’s acoustics gathered and focused the kid’s screams like a funnel; it felt like he was shrieking inside my skull. I cranked up the AC/DC- to make it a fair fight- and drove aimlessly through the moonlight.

I was dreaming of soundproof rooms and sleeping pills when I dimly perceived a tapping sound growing louder and more insistent. Squinting in the bright sunlight, I slowly woke from a perfect sleep the likes of which I hadn’t known since Matt arrived. A police officer was rapping on the driver’s side window. I quickly turned around to check on Matt; arms and legs splayed out, snoring softly, the little guy was sound asleep. I turned to the officer, put a finger to my lips, made a shushing sound, and rolled down the window.

The cop very softly whispered, “Are you OK?”

“Yeah.”

“Do you know where you are?”

“Uhm.” I had no idea. I looked around, discovered I was in a Whataburger parking lot and, staring straight ahead, answered, “A Whataburger parking lot?” After hearing the whole story, the officer strongly suggested I take Matt home.

Pulling out of the parking lot, I realized I had absolutely no memory whatsoever of pulling into the parking lot: a clear-cut case of sleepdriving.

My sympathies to those dads being driven to sleepless despair by their own mini-sirens. But, if you can resist the natural impulse to head for the hills, in 20 years or so they may, as Matt did, grow into one of the finest people you’ve ever known.