HOW TO SURVIVE A BAD BABY, VOLUME II

dinosaur

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.

How To Survive A Bad Baby, Volume I

dinosaur

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.