Baby-Proofing 101

Step 1

Do not have a baby. You are full of light and fire and piss and vinegar — like a non-sexual, golden erection (that smells a little like urine and vinegar). Babies are difficult; life should be easy, or at least minimally challenging. Do not have a baby. Do not baby-proof your home. Your home, if you have one, is great.

Step 2

You have a baby? Aaahh, so. That’s my hilarious “wise Asian” impression. It’s not offensive because I am portraying the Asian as wise, a positive trait. Anyway, forget what I said in Step 1. That was just to fluff up those weaklings that are afraid of having a baby just because it’s “incredibly difficult”. Now that they’re gone, we can talk mano a mano, which is Spanish for “man to man” (just add an “o” to any English word and voila! (French) you’ve got a Spanish word. Like this — “burrito-o”).

Babies, if you have them, are great, but they’re dangerous. They come out of the womb possessing almost no self-preservation instincts and, in fact, have a nearly superhuman propensity for doing things that have a high likelihood of killing them. No, not heroin. And that’s not funny. I’m no “square” but I don’t think it’s humorous to joke about what will definitely kill Miley Cyrus.

Babies will topple things that you didn’t think could topple, tangle themselves in cords no matter how far you push them under the couch, stick their fingers in sockets like they’re alien cyborgs pre-programmed to steal all of our precious electricity, and put anything and everything in their mouths (kind of like my ex-wife, Sheila¹). So, you will need to lock down everything in your home like Fort Knox or risk injury to or even death of your precious baby, which would almost definitely lead to some questions from the authorities, followed by some answers from you, followed by a trial, followed by jail time, followed by intimidation and possible assault from fellow inmates, followed by you joining a gang to protect yourself (I know, but what else could you do?!), followed by some unfortunate tattoos, followed by deep psychological distress, followed by parole, followed by laser tattoo removal, followed by — well, you get the picture — death eventually. None of us will be free of death’s promise. That’s the title of my new collection of limericks. Let me know if it sounds a little clunky. Actually, you know what, don’t. My ego’s a little fragile these days² and I’d probably just get defensive.

Step 3

Buy a drill. The drill is a metaphor for your power. Raising a child can be chaotic, can make you feel helpless. The drill is your way of exerting control, of exerting your power.

Step 4

Do NOT use the drill on your child! Jesus! Is that what you thought I meant? No. No. Don’t do that.

Step 5

Plug in the drill and rev it a couple times. You don’t even have to put a bit in; just rev it. “Bit” is a weak word, don’t you think? Bit. We’ll have to change it to something stronger. “Butt?” No, too many associations. “Chud?” “Nguh?” Yeah, I like that. Nguh! Anyway, you don’t even need to put an nguh! into the drill. Just rev it a couple times. Feels good, right? Yeah…oh yeah…mmm…uh huh. Yes.

Step 6

Plug all of your unused sockets with those little plastic plug cover things. What? You thought we were going to jump right to using the drill? Whoa there, Sparky! Someone’s all keyed up! No, no, no, my friend. You’ve got to work up to the main event. The climax. I’ve always said, if baby-proofing is one thing, it is a narrative metaphor for sex.

Wait…no, that doesn’t sound right. Let me check my notes. I — no…yes, no, that’s something else. I’m sorry, I was thinking of something else. Sorry.

Step 7

Gather your cords and cables against the wall. Tape them down if possible. Your child will eschew all of the expensive toys you bought them and spend all of their time attempting to turn your exposed cables into a noose. Babies, like magician/creep David Blaine, love danger.

Step 8

Buy a stud-finder. Haha, no, you can’t use my ex-wife Sheila³. Well, I mean, you could use her like a recalcitrant 7-year-old uses a pencil sharpener over and over and over in an attempt to avoid sitting down at their desk and doing any real work, but…no, no, I’ve lost the simile. Ahem. Anyway, your local hardware store will likely have an assortment you can choose from.

Step 9

Place the stud-finder against the wall and move it horizontally until the red light goes off, indicating you have found a stud. The standard American building has studs placed 16 inches apart in the wall. Occasionally, buildings will have studs placed 24 inches apart.

Step 10

Neither is true for your building. Your building appears to special. The studs are either placed at random intervals or possibly don’t exist at all. Your walls are a random amalgamation of plaster, wood, dry-wall, masonry, and, seemingly, cardboard. They are a direct reflection of the internal state of your brain since having a child. You are damaged. You are unwell, mentally.

Step 11

You were unable to find a stud. Go buy a set of plastic anchors that will allow you to drill into the drywall. Sit on the curb outside of the hardware store and think about all of the common household tasks that you are unable to master. You can bullshit a 20 page paper on Shakespeare’s use of moon-related imagery in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but you can’t unclog a drain. You can’t change a tire. You have to watch a Youtube video before feeling capable of cleaning your shower. You are a flaccid, flatulent, liberal-arts insult to your forebears. You look down and poke at your soft belly; you gently jiggle your incipient man-breasts. You are on a slow but inexorable journey towards becoming a human marshmallow. Eventually, you will simply sit, puffy and inoffensive, in the corner of your child’s room, occasionally used as a chair or pillow, gathering dust, growing old. Dying.

Step 12

Snap out of it! You can do this! Not well, probably, not well at all — maybe a C+. But, if you can at least complete this job with some tiny crumb of competence, maybe the anxiety, the chorus of voices chanting “ineffectual, ineffectual”, will recede. Lift the drill. Insert the correctly-sized nguh! Press the drill against the place on the wall that you wish to violate. Prepare to exert your will, your manhood, on the wall. Prepare to exert some modicum of control over your life. Firmly press the trigger.

Step 13

The nguh! breaks!

It goes in an inch, hits some unknowable obstruction in your wall, and snaps in half. Hold the pieces of the broken nguh! in your hand and look at them. Think briefly, wildly, of shoving them into your mouth and swallowing them. Do not do this. Instead, let them fall to the ground and roll into a corner where your baby will eventually find them and almost certainly ingest them. Hold the drill in your hands and contemplate it. It is somehow wet. Ah! Yes, of course. You are crying. Those are your tears. They are coming freely now. Look around the room at the many heavy objects that it is now abundantly clear you will never be able to affix to the wall yourself. Your baby, your sweet child, will die a horrible, lonely death under a bookcase, or dresser, or television. This much is certain. You have failed.

Step 14

Leave your home. Go out into the light and the noise. Feel the sun and the breeze on your tear-stained cheeks. It is now that part of the Fall when the temperature begins to drop and the warmth of the sun is a tangible, knowable thing — the light now wholly distinguishable from the shade. Walk to the park and sit alone on a bench, back straight. Listen to the cardinals and sparrows sing their dialogic songs. Let the distant sound of traffic work its soporific spell on you. Let your shoulders drop and your hands finally unclench. This will be ok. You will be ok. You will go down to the hardware store and ask one of the kind, taciturn men there to do the baby-proofing for you. You will negotiate a more than reasonable price. His name will be Manuel, maybe, Manny to his friends. Though he could, he will not smile in a way that reveals his disdain for your soft, white, upper-middle-class incompetence. You will want to hug him, but you will recognize that that would be an uncomfortable experience for him, so you will settle for a firm handshake.

Your wife and child will eventually come home, and you will ruefully describe your struggle with the furniture, the studs, the drill. Your wife will embrace you, kiss your cheek, indulge your self-pity a bit but not too much, and massage your bruised ego. Your baby will giggle and beam, blissfully unaware of the various death traps surrounding them.

That night you will lie in bed and think that, maybe, you must admit, there are things that you are good at beyond writing bad but serviceable essays on Shakespeare, even if none immediately come to mind.


¹ FUCK YOU SHEILA
² FUCK YOU SHEILA
³ FUCK YOU SHEILA

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Guest Post: Evolution of a Father, by Alexis Dahl

In the beginning, I looked at my fiancé as a specimen in a diorama at the Natural History Museum. Most of the time I got in there and interacted with him. But sometimes I simply watched. My fiancé became a father. Then a husband. Then he devolved, becoming extremely hairy and, coincidentally, started thumping his chest. He makes happy grunts when he stands in front of the mirror holding naked Poe. “Uurgh uuuuurgh. Bah bah bah.” That’s Andrew. Occasionally Poe responds, usually with laughter. “Why don’t you use words?” she silently asks. Andrew bahs back.

No, this is not a metaphorical device. Come on over at bath time or breakfast or playtime or whenever you want and you will witness the modern male Neanderthal loping around the apartment.

I write that with love.

We went out for dinner on Andrew’s birthday. He covered his loin cloth with a pair of baby blue pants and donned a linen shirt. He honored the day of his 9 lb body busting out of his slim, gentle mama by showering. He does this once a week, or so he grunted in reproof when I asked him when he showers. In his defense, our bathroom wall is hosting a thriving ecology at the moment. To be specific, mold and plant(s?), a tendril of which peeked through next to the shower-head.

At the pizzeria Andrew picked for our night out, I looked for ways to fill the silence. He adjusted his seat, seeking a neutral position for his back. He injured it lifting stones at our wedding while braying in salute of our nuptials. Tonight he was quiet. Tired.

What do Neanderthals discuss when their baby is being guarded back at the cave? Trump’s campaign manager. Hillary’s. The art on the walls. The way I eat pizza. The similarity between the restaurant host and a friend’s ex. Plans for the next day. The chewiness of the snap peas. Not Poe. Or not much of Poe. Not much of anything with personal consequence.

My life and Andrew’s are now like the contents of Poe’s colon. Lots of undigested bits remain distinct and intact. But do you really consider them separate when they exit the same hole? Can you smell a difference between that asparagus stalk and the sweet potato? I attest: you cannot.

I see Andrew. I feel his energy longing for the differentiation between my bit and his bit. (No, Andrew, I’m not referring to our private parts.) We each generated “nurture lists” and we put them on the fridge. Me: “doing yoga, meditate, have a family picnic, travel, read a novel, get a haircut, write a poem, etc.” Andrew: “read, walk, run, journal/blog, etc.” Our intention is to help the other person do one of the actions from the list every day. A few of my actions involve spending time with Andrew, but we both prioritized being alone, separate from our significant other.

Becoming a parent is rudely awaking in the alternate universe of sleep-deprived moms and dads, specters we used to pass through on the subway, in the street, everywhere. We’ve been sworn into the society of volitionally milk and shit-stained. We are constantly reminded of how un-unique our experiences are – gratefully, gloriously! common.

But I don’t want to be a “mom” in Andrew’s eyes, my colors muted by sleeplessness and daily chores. Moreover, I don’t want Andrew to blend in with that sea of dads, vanquished, denuded of their man caves. It’s in that space he cultivates his particular aroma, the one that made me want to stick my nose in his armpit and breathe deeply. So when Andrew asks to go for a walk while I sit with Poe, I say yes both begrudgingly and with relief. He widens the distance between me and him, a space across which I peer at his identity. Not as “dad”, but as intelligent, sexy, unknowable man. Apart from me. Not a part of me.

Back at home, I foisted birthday cake on my exhausted caveman. He ate each bite while affirming that yes, he liked the cake, wow, that must have been hard work, mmm, I now taste that saltiness. All this without language. That will come back, in the morning, or after another few years of our evolution. Meanwhile, I am content to stand on the opposite side of the glass tank. I am content to not be able to touch all that he is. He is not mine, neither is Poe for that matter. In preserving a self outside my reach, he preserves us.

–Alexis

One Year Older

One year older.

I injured my back at our wedding a couple months ago¹ and am now in physical therapy. I’m heavier than I used to be. My doctor is going to put me on blood pressure medication unless I get serious about exercising, then might do it anyway if the exercise doesn’t help. There’s some white in my beard.

Hi ho.

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Last year, for my birthday, Alexis took me to Daybreaker, an early morning, drugless rave. I wore a goofy top hat that Alexis bought me, and she wore her five-month-pregnant belly. We drank cold brew and kale juice and danced and jumped until our knees were sore, then went to a diner and ate like animals. This morning, Alexis joked that it was foolish to have done something like that last year — woken up so early. Instead, we should have slept the whole day, knowing now what lay ahead of us.

◎◎◎

Poe can stand now, so when she’s decided it’s time to get up, she pulls herself up using the bars in the crib and yells raucously for us to come get her. Being greeted by a grinning, bouncing baby when I come in to get her in the morning is one of my new life’s undeniable pleasures.

She only wakes once a night these days (nights?), and had we not taken two big, sleep-disrupting trips this summer, we would have likely eliminated that one wake up by now. In a week she goes into daycare, and sleep will no doubt be disrupted again.

Hi ho.

Daycare. Yikes. She will adjust. There will be a couple days of heavy, heart-rending crying, but she will adjust. She has proven herself to be a pretty resilient baby; it’s Mommy and Daddy that will likely have the hardest time.

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One of the biggest downsides/upsides to parenting is that I’m constantly referring to myself as “Daddy”.

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Parenting has gotten much easier for me since I battled the nap demon² during paternity leave. But anxiety still dogs me at every turn.

A month ago, we noticed a leak in our bathroom ceiling. There was some issue with the plumbing in the unit above us, and water was draining into our ceiling and walls. We didn’t get it dealt with quickly enough, and a week ago it became clear we had mold in the walls. The super came and sloppily tore a hole in the wall/ceiling, then realized that the dry-wall was still too damp to work on. So, he had to leave it alone for a couple of days to dry, leaving the gaping hole open to pour mold spores directly into our lungs and the lungs of our 8-month-old child. Alexis and I have been nearly catatonic with stress for the past week. It’s scary. I’m not especially concerned about my own well-being³, but when you throw a baby into the mix…

I had visions of Poe developing serious, long term health issues and Alexis and I never forgiving ourselves. You know…anxiety’s greatest hits.

It’s being dealt with. The management company ended up sending a kind and charismatic plumber, a welcome relief from our surly, obstructionist, corner-cutting, impossible-to-understand super. We still have a moldy hole in our bathroom, but it’s being dealt with. I lift my head out of the deep, dark waters of anxiety and the sun is visible. I will be submerged again, I know, but for now I can float all right.

◎◎◎

Poe waved at a waiter a couple nights ago. First time she’s ever done it. The waiter, a young latino man wearing glasses, stood off to the side, waving at Poe and smiling. She looked at him quizzically for a bit, then slapped her hand against the table a couple times, raised it, and rotated it back and forth at him. We couldn’t believe it. We’ve been trying to get her to mimic us for weeks, to no avail. Then she meets a kind stranger in a restaurant and lifts her impossibly small and delicate hand into the air to connect with him across the decades.


¹ HUMPING UR MOM.
² And motherfucking won.
³ Lost cause.

On Darkness, or The Good Parts

I focus on the darkness.

In life, yes, but, more particularly, on this blog. Part of that is an attempt to balance the scales of parenthood media. Don’t get me wrong, if you dig, there is no shortage of brutally honest portrayals of the difficulty of early parenting. But still, the overwhelming sense you get from books/movies/people is one of innocence, of joyfulness. In commercials or in films, when the sleep-deprived father closes the door to his child’s bedroom, finally thinking he has gotten her to sleep, and she wakes upon hearing his first creaky step on the floor boards, the father gives an “aw shucks” sigh or hangs his head instead of collapsing against the wall in tears or cursing violently under his breath or punching some unbending surface until his knuckles are raw and his fingers are broken.

On a good day, I am trying to get through to the truth, to the meaning of my life (I don’t think I can speak for anyone else’s). By writing, by reading, by talking to people I love, or people I barely know, by collaborating on artistic projects, I am trying to push through to the truth of my existence. And maybe I’m near-sighted, mopey, narcissistic, naive, but I think the path to the truth lies through darkness. Through facing the things in my life that are difficult (of which there have been mercifully – or woefully – few) and being honest about them. I don’t mean to block out the light – I want the light to be the light – but I am letting darkness take the stage for a bit, so I can see what it says. I feel that not to give it its due would be truly foolish. Truly naive.

Alexis went up to Boston to visit her sister and try on wedding dresses a week ago and brought the Pope-a-dope with her (baby’s first trip). I got home from work at 7:30 pm the night they got back and upon entering the apartment was greeted with the sound of a complaining Poe. “Here we go,” I thought.

Alexis brought out our very crabby, tired-looking daughter. Her eyes were red and staring. Clearly it was bed time. She gets into these moods when we don’t catch her sleepiness quickly enough and won’t be consoled until she’s been fed and put down to sleep. But the second she looked at me, she calmed. She didn’t smile or light up, just looked at me.

I’m constantly imbuing Poe with thoughts and feelings and narratives that are probably just products of my imagination, but this is what the look said to me:

I see you.

It felt like a simple acknowledgement that we are tied to each other, have been tied to each other since her birth (or maybe before), and will be tied to each other until the day I die and until the day she later (much later, please) dies — that when my eyes close for the last time, I will be thinking of her. And when her eyes close for the last time, she will be thinking of me.

That’s my narrative at least.

I was anxious for the rest of the night in a generalized way. Preoccupied. I hadn’t seen Alexis in three days but found myself unable to focus on her. “Is Poe about to wake up?” I thought to myself. “Do I have clinical depression or anxiety? Am I going to need to go on medication?”

Alexis gave Poe a dream feeding around 10:30 pm and then we went to bed. I awoke to Poe’s voice over the monitor at 11:30 pm. Usually Alexis wakes up first, but she’s so sleep-deprived at this point that I’ve been waking up first on occasion. Alexis has been in charge of all night duties for a couple weeks now, but Poe didn’t sound too upset and, based on the clock, definitely didn’t need to be fed. So, I quietly got up and walked into Poe’s room, hoping to let Alexis sleep a little longer.

The moon was full that night and our blackout curtains are shit, so the room was filled with a crystalline blue light. Poe had flipped over onto her stomach (a common nightly occurrence) and had also rotated 90 degrees and gotten both her legs wedged between the slats in the crib. So, there she was — face down, torso in the crib, legs dangling out — making goofy gliding sounds with her voice. She didn’t sound happy necessarily, but definitely didn’t sound upset. Just reveling in the new sounds she has been learning each day.

I freed Poe from her wooden prison, rotated her, and eased her onto her side (her preferred sleeping position). She continued to babble, eyes closed. I put a pacifier in her mouth, patted her back, and shushed a bit. She immediately calmed. I continued the shush-patting for a few moments just to seal the deal. I allowed myself to bask in the moment for a bit.

Here she and I were, in the most basic of parent/child interactions, performed in some version or other billions of times across the globe since the dawn of humanity. She had a need, I provided it. Simply. I didn’t think about my ego or whether this meant she would continue to have sleep disruptions for the next 17 years or whether it maybe would have been easier to avoid having a child in the first place. Just me in a room with my daughter. No far-reaching ramifications. It felt simple and deep and good.

She woke up 10 minutes later, but I didn’t care. My mind didn’t flood me with a million negative thoughts or outcomes. We were engaged in a dance, she and I, and I had stumbled quite a bit in the beginning and would step on her feet many more times before this was all through, but for now I was moving, I was calm, I was fluid, I was smiling.

 

New Dad Diet! (FOR DADS!!!)

For Dads of ~4-month-olds:

6 am

Wake up. Brew a pot of coffee. Pour the first scalding hot cup out on your arm to remind yourself how to feel. Drink the remaining three cups.

6:30 am

Pick up an orange and look at it. Mutter, “Haha, fuck that,” under your breath and throw the orange against the wall with all your (pitiful, emasculated) strength. Quickly clean up the mess so that you don’t have to explain your (impotent) rage issues to your partner later.

7:30 am

Decide to “treat yourself” by going out and buying a croissant or bagel for the 98th morning in a row. Eat the pastry quickly, desperately, on the street or over the sink. Look down at your incipient man breasts and think to yourself re: your partner, “She knew what she was getting into. Frankly, she only has herself to blame.”

9 am

Brew another pot of coffee. Don’t pour any of this one out on yourself. Just drink the four cups. If the area behind your eyes begins to burn with a searing, white heat and you can see your own death occurring in front of you like a hologram, then you’ve hit the correct caffeine threshold.

11:20 am

Pour a handful of raw, unsalted almonds directly into the trash.

12:30 pm

Get lunch at a diner. If a vegetable touches your plate, make damn sure it’s pickled or decorative or send it right back.

2:45 pm

Eat white cheddar popcorn by the sloppy handful. 30%-70% of it will end up on your shirt. Look around to make sure no one is watching. If your baby is watching, throw a blanket over its head. Then, pull your shirt out and up and create a sort of funnel leading to your mouth. Shake the shirt so the rest of the popcorn falls into your expectant maw.

4:17 pm

Repeat the phrase “Diabetes only happens to old, fat people,” until you can feel tears running down your cheeks. Gather the tears in a small bowl and sprinkle them over some stale salt and vinegar potato chips. Whisper the words, “Life hack,” and smile bitterly.

8 pm

After putting your baby down for bed, decide to “treat yourself” by ordering delivery for the 98th night in a row. Your baby will wake multiple times during the ordering process but stay the course: you’ll need fuel to help you tackle the ~18 times your baby wakes during the night. In the “Special Instructions” box on GrubHub, write a desperate, rambling message about how you’re trapped in a prison of you’re own making/used to be an interesting person/could have been someone important, etc.

8:45 pm

Eat dinner over the sink in between wakings. Think of it as a six-course tasting menu consisting of increasingly cold bites of the same dish. Repeat the tears/chips/life-hack sequence for dessert.

10 pm

Drink a steaming mug of calming chamomile tea while discussing with your partner the developmental leaps you witnessed during the day. Sit next to her. Feel the weight of her body against yours. Comfort her; support her. Bury your face in her hair and express gratitude for the fact that you have a partner and child who love you more than anyone in the world. JUST KIDDING, DO THE TEARS/CHIPS/LIFE-HACK SEQUENCE AGAIN!

10:30 pm

Collapse into bed and fall immediately asleep. Inadvertently ingest two spiders in your sleep. Whisper the words, “life-hack”.

12:3o am

Wake to the sound of crying (baby’s).

2 am

Wake to the sound of crying (baby’s).

3 am

Wake to the sound of crying (baby’s and yours).

3:30 am

Wake to the sound of crying (baby’s, yours, partner’s).

3:45 am

”      ”

4 am

”      ”

5 am

”      ”

6 am

The cycle begins anew.

I’M OK (cry for help)

I want to go around punching all the childless people I see.

Poe’s sleep devolved about a week ago, and now we’re in the shit. Everything was looking rosy for a little while, culminating in one night where Poe slept for 6 hours in a row and then 3 straight hours after that. Glorious. But then something changed. It resulted from one of two things. Or both.

One, babies have sleep regressions. Something about their brains develop and they need to adjust to the world again, which causes disrupted sleep. The first big one is supposed to come at 4 months. Poe is only 3 months old, but she’s been advanced in other ways, so I wouldn’t be too surprised if she’s early. I’m not bragging, but, I mean, yeah, suck it, I guess.

The other possible cause is the one I’m kicking myself about. Three days before the breakdown, we started trying to get Poe to nap in the crib. Up until that point, she’d only ever really napped on someone or in the stroller. In an effort to not overwhelm Poe or ourselves, we started by trying to get only the first nap of the day in the crib.

The first time we put her down, she cried. Not surprising, but the crying was more fervent than the type of crying she does at night, which is more like complaining. I put my hand on her and tried the pacifier several times. On the fifth or sixth try (after about 15 minutes), she fell begrudgingly asleep. She only slept for about 25 minutes, but, all in all, it felt like a victory. Stupid Rome wasn’t built in a day, and it took us 7-10 nights of solid work to get Poe to sleep on her back in the bassinet at night, so I was prepared for a period of adjustment.

The next day, we tried again. This time, she cried a little harder and required a pick-up followed by some rocking. But then she fell asleep and napped on her back for a half hour. A tiny step in the right direction. Unfortunately, the next day was worse. Then things snowballed. Within three days, all of Poe’s naps, as well as her night-time sleep, were disrupted, culminating in a truly hellish Friday night.

I began to read voraciously. What was going on? Was it time for sleep training? Had we screwed things up somehow? The pediatrician said that the devolution of the naps was clearly affecting the night-time sleep and that it may be time for some version of sleep training. I asked the pediatrician which type she recommended, but she said that she couldn’t single out one method as better than the rest. They all seemed to work equally well, she said, as long as we committed to one and were consistent. I asked the doctor about concerns about a baby’s distress and cortisol levels in response to sleep training (I made the mistake of reading a study) and she assuaged those concerns relatively well. Poe was going to have to go through an adjustment period if we were going to try to get her on her back, and that would involve some crying, one way or another. I hung up the phone emboldened and encouraged.

And then we completely balked.

I made the mistake of reading up more on sleep training (why do I keep fucking reading?!) and read The Baby Whisperer, which makes some good points, but is stunningly negative and condescending and, at times, terrifying. It made me feel like I’d already ruined Poe’s life by letting her cry a minute here and a minute there.

So, we balked. We weren’t ready for sleep training. Most experts don’t recommend babies start sleep training until they are at least 4 months old. Poe is, as I said, 3 months old. We don’t want to scar her, and we don’t want to have to start sleep training right back up after the 4 month sleep regression wraps up (if this is indeed it).

So, we’re back to square…I don’t know. Negative one? First, we’ve gone back to Poe napping in the wrap, hoping this will calm her down and stabilize her a bit. We’re trying to get her on a more reliable schedule during the day (something we hadn’t really done at all until now) and are going to try to stop nursing her to sleep, which has become a big prop for her. So, we’ll see. The first night trying to get things back on track, it took 50 minutes to get her to sleep, but then she had a so-so night. The couple nights after that, not so great. I don’t know. Help?

But, so, anyway, the last week has been hell, and I’ve been looking around at childless people and wanting to tackle them and scream my pain into their eyes and down their throats. Just now, upon leaving my building, I saw a young man walking without a care in the world, two books under his arm.

“What do you think you’re gonna do, fancy boy?!” I thought-screamed, “Read both of them?! Well, aren’t you awash in a sea of free time?!”

Walking through the park with Alexis and Poe this weekend, I saw couple upon couple lounging on the grass or spread out on benches. One sat beside each other, separated by a backpack, he staring at his phone, she reading a book. Next to them, another couple, the man looking as if he had been posed by a photographer to embody disaffected, carefree boredom. I wanted to puke fire onto all of them.

Happy parents rankle me as well, but rather than wanting to rage-jaculate all over them, I want to grab them by the shoulders and scream, “How do you do it?!” If I had one less ounce of self-control, I would accost every last parent I saw on the street and demand they tell me how they got their kid to sleep, or at least how they survived the first year. Sleep training? Co-sleeping? Just riding it out? Anti-depressants? Partial self-lobomy? I don’t give a shit, I’ll do it! I’ll do it.

Or not. I mean, if its the least bit challenging or stressful, we probably won’t do it. So…yeah.

Scattered Thoughts About Bodies

Bodies

We were skinny when we were younger, lithe and barely there.

◎◎◎

By the time I re-met Alexis, I had softened up a bit, but I remember in college being ashamed of how flat my torso was, how visible my bones were. Then, slowly over time, whiskey, beer and bread bulged over my waistband and pulled my chest out and down.

Alexis has always been impossibly thin, dangerously so at times. I remember her hip bones jutting against mine in a dorm room at Dartmouth at an alumni theater festival, the first time we took our clothes off together. There used to be a running joke among my friends about how I purported to like full, curvy women but always ended up with waifish intellectuals. You can’t escape what you are, I guess. And deep in my heart, I’ll always be a waifish intellectual.

◎◎◎

Two summers ago, I had a bad reaction to Cipro¹ and was hobbled for months, my achilles tendons aching and weak. I fell genuinely out of shape. I’ve always been lazy, too free with my fried potato consumption, but this was different. I wasn’t able to exercise aerobically for four months. Unsurprisingly, this showed up in my body. My thighs rubbed together; I went up a couple pants sizes. This was, I think, barely noticeable to anyone but the body-obsessed (and Alexis, of course) but I noticed it, staring at myself in the unforgiving light of the bathroom mirror at the beginning or ending of the day.

I am constantly pulled between two poles, as, I believe, is the whole country: the desire to be healthy (and thus conventionally beautiful) and the desire to love my body no matter what it looks like. The former is a real concern. Even if I got to the point where I loved my sagging, softer body unconditionally, that love would be short-lived if I were felled by a massive heart attack at age 45. I eat too much saturated fat, too few vegetables; I drink too much alcohol too often: these are things that are true. But, secretly², I want to do these things and reap the consequences. I want to die fat and rosy and tipsy and extremely fucking happy, knowing that I had sucked deep from life and hadn’t counted calories.

But at the same time I don’t ever want to die³. I want to feel good when I get up in the morning. I want to take my shirt off and not look like the human equivalent of a tuna salad sandwich on white bread.

◎◎◎

Alexis, much to my chagrin, asked for a fancy video monitoring system on our baby registry. We set it up a little while back (it’s terrible) and found that it plays a hilariously cruel joke: it records moments of activity and plays them back to you WHETHER YOU LIKE IT OR NOT⁴. Want to forget the time you walked around in circles at 4 am, bouncing your daughter and singing her an unhinged, improvised lullaby? Too bad, here it is on repeat! I caught a glimpse of myself shirtless, bending over to put Poe down in her bassinet, and it was FUCKING CHASTENING. I immediately turned to Alexis and thanked her for continuing to be attracted to me⁵.

◎◎◎

I did something that hurt Alexis, back when she was still living in Switzerland and I was struggling with the idea of commitment, and she lost a not-insubstantial amount of weight. It was scary. She was already desperately thin and I watched her begin to disappear before my eyes. Then, when we moved in together, she gained some weight. I knew Alexis had dabbled in eating disorders before, and I would get in her face if she skipped a meal (something I suspect she got away with on a regular basis when she lived alone). She would make assessments of her body that were categorically insane for someone of her size and frame, and it would make me angry.

But I don’t know what it’s like to be a woman in this country, and I never will. The entertainment industry does its best to body-shame men equally as hard as women these days⁶, but it will always be worse for women. Agents and casting directors say things like, “well, you’ll need to lose 15 pounds,” and we can’t even call it an insult. It’s just the truth. Low on talent? Who gives a shit?! If we can see your jawline and collar bone⁷, then you’ve got a passing shot. Even our overweight celebrities are gorgeous. Melissa McCarthy is genuinely good-looking, as is Aidy Bryant. Adele is one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen.

I know that tv, film, theater — and even music these days — are visual media. Executives are going to employ people who they think will attract the most viewers and thus make the most money. I’m not an idiot; I’m not being disingenuous. I’m aware of how capitalism works. But why are we so afraid of people who don’t look a certain way?

◎◎◎

Alexis, of course, gained some more weight when she got pregnant and then has kept on some of it post-partum⁸. She laments it, thinks about it often. But I didn’t fall in love with her because she was skinny. I fell in love with her because her brain was made of holy fire. I fell in love with her because her whole being was alight with life, with simultaneous brightness and darkness. An optimist with a deep well of melancholy.

And look, I hope this doesn’t sound like some sort of sanctimonious pat on the back⁹ or that it sounds blithe or naive. I know how insidious, how deeply ingrained body image issues can be. So I don’t mean to imply that this is some sort of simple or easy fix. But, seriously, how do we free ourselves? How do we help our friends, our lovers, our children free themselves to be able to look down at the curves, the lumps, the angles, the evidence that life, that experience, can put a mark on our bodies and think that that is not sad, not disappointing, but beautiful. That is time; that is life.

And how do I direct that love back toward myself? How do I look in the mirror at the folds and the handles and the softness, and smile and think, “that’s life”?

◎◎◎

We were skinny when we were younger, lithe and barely there. But now life has filled us up a bit. And in the dark, in the night, our daughter (hopefully) asleep in the next room, our hands search for each other, trace the curves and the bones, trying to grasp the life, pull it out of each other, trying to fill our noses and our mouths with it. In stolen moments and quiet hours, we bury our faces in each other’s hair and attempt to inhale the particles of eternity that have begun to settle there.

___________________________________________________

¹ In not especially rare cases, Cipro (and a handful of other antibiotics) attacks all the tendons in a person’s body. DO NOT TAKE CIPRO. Seriously.
² And plenty of the time not so secretly.
³ Have I told you about my fear of death? It is POTENT.
⁴ I’m not kidding. I can’t figure out how to turn this feature off.
⁵ Or at least feigning it well.
⁶ When was the last time you saw an Everyman hero with an actual everyman physique? 1980?
⁷ And hell, throw in a couple ribs, why the fuck not?
⁸ Difficult to jog with an infant attached to one’s nipple, I presume.
⁹ I still love my partner even though she gained 15 pounds?! What am I, A SAINT?!?!

Poe’s Sleep Log, or A Tedious Catalogue of Hell

At Poe’s one month check-up, her pediatrician urged us to start working toward a sustainable sleep plan, which involved Poe sleeping alone on her back in a bassinet. This was not what we wanted to hear. We had just reached a shaky truce on the sleep front. We’d been trying from the beginning to get her on her back in the bassinet and she wasn’t fucking having it. She’d wake up 5 minutes later, furious, or gassy, or a combination of both. I had already mentally reconciled myself to the thought of an 18 year old Poe screaming and crying when I tried to take her from my chest and put her in a bed (presumably because I was being crushed to death). So this news from the doctor was unwelcome. We were gun-shy PTSD sufferers less than willing to return to the source of our nightmares. But the pediatrician assured us it was the right thing to do and would likely involve three miserable nights of adjustment followed by (theoretically) sleep bliss. Or at least a little more consistency.

The doctor never used the term sleep training, though she made it clear that if we weren’t able to establish sustainable sleep habits in the next month or so, that was likely coming next.

We went home emboldened by the pediatrician’s encouragement. This feeling immediately fell apart when we began to discuss the matter. This was a joke: Poe had already proven herself unwilling to sleep on her back and we had finally (finally!) worked out a sleeping arrangement where we all got at least some chunk of sleep and no one was murdering anyone else or having a complete mental breakdown in the middle of Fort Washington Avenue. So, why change? Because, eventually, we had to. We couldn’t put Poe on our chests forever and the pediatrician thought this was a good time to start taking baby steps (HAHA, SEE WHAT I DID THERE?! OH GOD, BEAT ME TO DEATH WITH A BOPPY!) toward Poe sleeping alone on her back through the night.

So.

We set about inching our way towards sleep. We decided that we would put Poe in the bassinet in the bedroom and I would hold vigil next to the bassinet on a cushion and put my hand on Poe or pick her up and rock her anytime she woke up and got upset, which was bound to be often. At 1 am, Alexis would take over and do the same. If it really wasn’t working, we’d set up the co-sleeper in between us and hope that Poe was calmed being next to us. We also decided to keep a clear and detailed log of how things went, in an attempt to determine any patterns that Poe followed, as well as what worked and what didn’t.

What follows is the record of several of those nights. I’ve tried to be clear who is speaking at any given time. Aside from some minor grammar/spelling clean-up, this is pretty exactly what we experienced. Apologies for some odd and/or confusing jumps between third person and first person. It was late. And we were tired. So tired.

A couple notes: notice the dates are from nearly a month ago. Mercifully, and unsurprisingly, things are getting better. So, I can post this madness and (mostly) laugh ruefully and a little nostalgically about it. Also, you’ll notice a lot of references to grunting. Poe, like many babies, has a lot (like a grown man amount) of gas and often responds by grunting and straining. Anyway, here we go.

Key terms:

Nose Frida: draconian-looking but ultimately harmless and helpful apparatus for sucking mucus out of a baby’s nose.
Kissy Face: this means Poe is hungry.
‘Farting’ her: an act wherein someone pumps Poe’s legs in an attempt to encourage the expulsion of gas.

1/13/16

Andrew:

9:55 pm – Poe swaddled, rocked to sleep, put in bassinet, white noise – no pacifier
10:13 pm – grunting and complaining
10:14 pm – some crying
10:17 pm – rocked and soothed
10:23 pm – put back down in bassinet – no pacifier
10:25 pm – crying
10:26 pm – tried pacifier
10:27 pm – grunting/complaining
10:33 pm – complaining ceased
10:34 pm – wish I was spooning Alexis
10:43 pm – spit out pacifier
10:46 pm – awake and complaining
10:47 pm – put pacifier back in
10:48 pm – this is a tedious catalogue of hell, isn’t it?
11:32 pm – Complaining
11:30-1 am – intermittent complaining but no crying
1 am – I woke her up for change/feeding/re-swaddling
1:45 am – put her on my chest for 20 minutes
2:05 am – put her down in bassinet

Alexis:

2:15 am – more boob after diaper changing
2:30 am – Poe falling asleep on mom
3:07 am – Poe swaddled and in bed with Mom in office. She’s MUCH quieter than last night at this interval. Makes her little percussive sound every 5 min but it’s mild. Alexis places hand on chest. Alexis likes being close to Poe.
4:15 am – Got gassy, she got frisky and seemed to be waking herself up. Fed her a little bit to see if it would help soothe, without unswaddling her. Then put her back down. She woke up.
4:25 am – unwrapped her to see if it would help her poop it out. She was not crying.
4:30 am – changed diaper. Poop.
4:40 am – gave her right boob. She seems very awake and curious about the room.
4:56 am – She’s super congested. Going to get Andrew to help me Nose Frida (Ed. note: I was so groggy when Alexis woke me up to do this that I had no idea what was going on and thus was of no help. Alexis leaned Poe against my inert and confused body and did the whole thing herself.)
5:15 – she’s totally awake. Letting her hang out in swing.
5:30 – she whimpered. Picked her up. Left boob.
5:58 – swaddled and lay her down in co sleeper
6:18 – after 20 min total silence, she started constant grunting. Put hand on her. Didn’t do anything. She will wake up
6:30 – picked her up. She went quieter. Put her down. Clearly needs diaper change. Considering just waking her. Going to lose my f)$&@@;/ing mind.

1/16/16

Andrew:

9 pm – fed and napped on mom
10:00 pm – swaddled and rocked by dad
10 – 10:30 pm – very lightly asleep on dad’s chest – squirming often
10:30 pm – put her down in bassinet – she started crying immediately
10:31 pm – tried putting a hand on her – did not help
10:35 pm – tried a pacifier – she immediately calmed
10:40 pm – dad’s stomach making comically loud gurgling sounds, as if trying to wake the baby – dad wants to tear his own stomach out, throw it out the window, and jump out after it.
10:42 pm – dad not feeling up to the task tonight. Long day followed by having to take care of baby at night feels a bit like prison. Having unreasonable feelings of persecution. The feeling that everything is, and must always go, wrong.
10:35 – 11:10 pm – Poe slept pretty soundly until dad banged into the door knob upon trying to exit the room (apparently it’s just going to be one of those nights) and now Poe is grunting/straining pretty regularly.
11:15 pm – took Poe out to the couch
11:15 pm – 1:10 am – fitful sleep with some uninterrupted chunks thrown in (none more than 20 minutes) – every time she woke, I used pacifier or arm around her and she fell back asleep

Alexis:
1:10 am – diaper just pee
1:20 am – left boob drunk solidly. She fell right to sleep then. Alexis placed her on chest.
1:40-1:45 am – swaddled her then let her rest on chest again.
1:50 am – placed in bassinet. A little groaning and alexis places hand on chest.
1:53 am – groan and immediate hand on chest.
2:03 am – still quiet. Afraid to have hope.
2:20 am – No dice. Note to self to put her in co sleeper because then crossing the room to put hand on chest is unnecessary.
2:44 am – either going to let her strain and see what happens for 5 min or going to move her. Indecisive. There are a lot of hours left and standing over bassinet feels bonkers. Want t.v. Or chocolate cake.
2:59 am – left her to grunt to for a few minutes. I think it gets worse when I don’t place hand on her.
3:00 am – I’ve peed 300 x tonight. Going to go again. My toe hurts.
Going to move Poe after pee. What’s the point of her sleeping in bassinet if I can’t sleep at all with this arrangement?
3:30 am – She woke up. Diaper change – pooped. Right boob. She’s got some stinky gas. Maybe I should stop eating raisins
4:07 am – put her on my chest to calm and burp her. Then decided to do tummy massage after she fought swaddling. She spit up on me after massage. Then wanted to eat.
Left boob.
Getting to point where I am considering abandoning swaddling and back sleeping for the night in favor of sleeping on my chest. Or swing?
Put her on chest and slept
6:46 – right boob
7:06 – diaper changed, left boob
7:30 – left boob some more

1/17/16

Andrew:

9:30 pm – put Poe down in bassinet awake with song, white noise, and pacifier.
9:30 pm – 9:50 pm – Poe closed eyes a couple times but mostly awake. Pacifier fell out a couple times – dad put it back in
9:50 pm – Poe awake but calm – dad, in hilarious act of wishful thinking, retreats to living room
9:52 pm – Poe upset – Dad returns to find Poe without pacifier, ripping major fart
9:55 pm – Poe closes eyes and keeps them closed – probably playing hilarious trick on idiot father
9:56 pm – maybe dad shouldn’t stare at poe’s face, using every ounce of his being to will her into sleep. Therapist would probably think that terrible use of time/mental energy
10 pm – a series of comically loud airplanes somehow fail to wake Poe, but I know if I move a fucking muscle she’s going to be wailing
10:06 pm – another hilariously loud plane – seriously, are we being attacked?
10:35 pm – some grunting
10:46 pm – loud, consistent grunting
10:47 pm – Poe awake but not upset when I came in. Closed her eyes when I laid a hand on her for a bit.
10:50 pm – upstairs neighbor honestly sounds like she’s stomping around on stilts.
10:50 pm – 11:15 pm – some whimpering/grunting
11:15 pm – 11:45 pm – mostly quiet
11:47 pm – she’s been pretty steadily asleep for almost two hours and I feel like that’s some sort of miracle
12:05 am – intermittent loud grunting
12:40 am – seriously, is there a helipad on the roof?
12:52 am – strained a couple more times but definitely not waking up
1 am – heavy grumbling, so dad woke Poe up for diaper change (very small poop), and feeding (2.5 oz or so)
1:25 am – put her back in bassinet sleepy but not asleep – immediate straining/grunting
1:26 am – put in pacifier – calmed slightly but not entirely
1:27 am – put a hand on Poe – calmed significantly
1:30 am – eyes closing and opening
1:35 am – spit out pacifier
1:36 am – eyes open but quiet

Alexis:

3:15 am – Alexis woke to constant grunting noises. Breasts going to pop. Sat next to Poe putting hand on her. She actually yawned in her sleep. Lots of smiling as she strained
3:24 am – she awake. Now I have to pee. Crazy happy smiles.
3:36 am – left boob
3:45 am – diaper change and right boob
4:03 am – she’s very awake
4:57 am – swaddled and in bassinet
5:00 am – she’s silent. I don’t trust it
5:20 am – grunting starts
5:33 am – moved to bed. Andrew put pacifier in. Now she’s grunting with it in her mouth. Going to unwrap her and put her on me. Want to sleep

1/18/16

Andrew:

9:45 pm – Poe put down in bassinet with song and white noise. Super squirrelly until pacifier
9:50 pm – eyes open for a couple minutes then asleep
9:55 pm – pacifier falls out – still asleep though
10:20 pm – big time straining – putting a hand on her does not help – accepts a pacifier but keeps straining
10:23 pm – rips a fart and immediately calms
10:23 pm – 11:05 pm – period of consistent (every 2-5 minutes) insane grunting
10:50 pm – took Poe out to living room because of grunting
11:07 pm – Poe awake and farting – put pacifier in – not helping much
11:12 pm – pulled Poe out of co-sleeper and farted her to see if that would help
11:15 pm – seems like it actually might have
11:20 pm – 12:10 am – period of mercifully silent sleep
12:15 am – straining starting back up
12:45 am – awake and straining/kissy face
12:50 am – fed, changed (medium poop), re-swaddled
1:30 am – put back in bassinet very awake with pacifier

Alexis:

2:45 am – consistent straining since she was put in bassinet. Alexis decides to move her so Andrew can sleep.
2:50 – there’s no ground decaf in cupboard. Blasted.
2:59 am – she smiles as she makes crazy grunts. Does she think this is funny? She partly woke up in the move. I pick her up and rock until she’s silent
3:00 am – arms and shoulders ache. She heavy.
3:01 am – no commentary as per normal in Andrew’s notes. He must have felt gloomy.
3:05 am – put pacifier in when I lay her down since she opens eyes and strains and cries. Insane grunting persists. She closes eyes. Hand on her at all times
3:10 am – pacifier fell out and she’s quiet. Silence of the gods
3:20 am – diaper change. Just pee if anything. Left boob.
3:50 am – swaddled and put in co sleeper. Grunting immediately resumes.
3:55 am – picked up to soothe and given right boob. She sucked a moment and then fell asleep.
4:01 am – abandoned co sleeper. Put Poe on her back next to me. Silent
5:42 am – she started to grunt. I put her on my belly because I really wanted a little more sleep
7:13 am – right boob

1/19/16

Andrew:

Mama says Dad did not include enough jokes in his commentary last night, so:

10:40 pm – Poe put down in bassinet with song, white noise and pacifier, after SLIPPING ON A BANANA PEEL.
10:44 pm – Take my baby. PLEASE. Pacifier falls out.
10:46 pm – Poe awake and grunting. THAT’S WHAT SHE SAID. Dad puts pacifier back in and puts a hand on her. She calms.
10:49 pm – pacifier falls out: WHOOPSIE-DOOPSIE-DOODLE! Poe restless. Dad puts it back in and puts a hand on her. She calms.
10:50 pm – 11:30 pm – Sleeping like a BABY (HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAjust kidding, she’s actually sleeping pretty quietly.)
11:30 pm – 11:50 pm – consistent bouts of groaning, eased by laying a hand on her and periodically farting her. Kid you not. Here I am, a (purportedly) self-respecting adult man, farting his infant daughter.
11:50 pm – 1 am – slept pretty soundly with occasional grunts. Women can’t drive very well, am I right?
1 – 1:40 am – period of pretty intense grumbling.
1:40 am – Poe awake – Dad changed her – tiny bit of poop

Alexis:

2:00 – 2:18 am – left boob
2:41 am – right boob. She spat up a lot of left boob I think because I let her stay on her back too long after feeding from a side lying position
3:02 am – sending text messages about wedding housing breaking my phone use rule. Poe needed extra time to settle down.
3:16 am – swaddling and heading to bassinet
3:46 am – grunting begins
4:00 am – put her in bed with me
5:46 am – that did nothing and I let it go on too long. Putting her on chest
7:25 am – also did nothing for grunting. I am grumpy.