After a particularly harsh day at my “liberry” workplace, I began complaining to my wife Ashley about the limited parenting skills of some of our patrons and how many were perfectly willing to allow their children to run wild and destructive throughout public places. It’s not a new complaint from me, I’m afraid, and I must admit that it was made from my safe and comfy perch atop Mount Childless Wonder. Evidently, the gods of irony were paying attention, however and decided to give me a little taste of how parenthood might play out.
The following Friday, I wasn’t scheduled to go in to work at all, so I was tidying up a few things around Chez Fritzius when the phone rang. It was our friend Beth from med-school. Beth said that her husband Will’s father had been rushed to a regional hospital with chest pains and it looked as if he was having more heart issues. The man’s been in and out of the hospital for such heart issues throughout the past year, but it was looking pretty serious this time. Beth and Will were going to head over. Could we babysit?
Now when I heard this, I immediately said “Sure,” cause it’s Beth doing the asking, plus Ash and I really love her baby, Ashley Nicole, (here on to be referred to as The Baby, so as not to get too confusing with namesake issues). I also figured that she’d be bringing The Baby over sometime that evening when my Ashley was around to know what to do with her.
“Thanks. I’ll be over with her in an hour or so,” Beth said. There was a bit more to it than that, of course, involving calls made to my Ashley to let her know what was on the way, but that’s the gist. Ashley alerted me to the fact that she wasn’t getting off from work til close to 5, so this meant it would be me and the baby all by ourselves for most of the day. Actually, she eased me into this revelation by first scaring the hell out of me.
ASHLEY: So you think you’ll be okay with her for the afternoon?
ASHLEY: What about when I’m on call tonight?
ME: Do what? You’re on call tonight?
ME: You’re shitting me.
ME: I knew you were on call on Sunday night, but not tonight.
ASHLEY: I had to trade.
ME: You’re shitting me.
ME: You’re shitting me?
Suddenly four and a half hours with the kid didn’t seem so bad.
To make matters worse, this was Beth’s first time to be apart from her kid for more than a couple of hours since they left the hospital nine months ago. Now, here she was leaving her kid in the care of a terrified sweathog in a stuffy, vaguely cat-hair infested house. But as they brought The Baby in, she gave me a huge grin and laughed and I somehow felt a little better about what I’d gotten myself into.
Beth and Will hauled in a foldable crib that transformed into a changing table, an activity saucer, a car seat, a stroller and bags and bags of toys, diapers, food, water, bottles, etc. Then Beth began rattling off instructions at me as to feeding times, proper Enfamil mixing ratios, how often the baby could have fruit-juice, nap schedules, Orajel application times, mood swings and a host of other informational tidbits that I failed to write down in their entirety. It was all just a blur. And within minutes, they’d departed, leaving me standing in my kitchen holding this 19 pound human, with whom I was not entirely sure what to do.
So, The Baby and I sat around on the couch for a bit, her smiling and laughing at me while I said things to her like, “Who’s a pretty girl?” and “I’m gonna get your piggies!” and “I have no clue what to do with you at all,” in soothing babytalk. After a while, this got old for me, so I looked around for something else to do. I spied her Baby Einstein baby-seat activity saucer–a big two-tiered, doughnut-shaped contraption the upper surface of which is lined with toys and various noise and light-making devices to entertain the baby as she sits in the middle of the doughnut and can rotate 360 degrees to reach all the stuff. So I stuck her in that. It seemed to work okay, as she happily began banging the crap out of all the toys in front of her, laughing away.
Baby happy, I tried to go to the kitchen for something to drink. The Baby immediately freaked out and began screaming at the top of her lungs. I dashed back and she got quiet and happy again. I took a step toward the kitchen and more screaming began. Step back and happy smiles. I then saw that so as long as I was within both eyesight and close proximity to The Baby, she remained happy. And I remained thirsty. This, of course, only lasted a few minutes, before she decided she’d had enough of the saucer and no amount of proximity or happy baby talk would calm her down. So I had to lift her out of it and sit on the couch while holding her to keep her quiet.
I then tried to find something on television that would be age appropriate. Instead of something good, though, I found the Doodlebops, perhaps the gayest kids’ show ever. (And when I say “gayest” I don’t mean it in a “Right Wing, All Homosexuals are Evil and Therefore so is this Show” kind of way. Cause, that’s not my perspective. I meant “gayest” in more of a “Violent Prison Rape in a Cell Block Designed by Rejects from the Set & Costuming Department of Cirque Du Soleil, with a 1960’s-Yellow-Submarine-Fab-Clown Fetish, and Cojo gets to watch,” kind of way. Go look at their website and tell me I’m wrong.)
After 10 minutes of that unwatchable crap, which The Baby wisely paid no attention to whatsoever, I was forced to change the channel to Star Trek: The Next Generation. It was in the middle of Best of Both Worlds Part I. Sweet! Now that’s some Borg action for your ass!
The Baby only let me watch a few minutes of this, though, before she began getting restless and started warming up her voice for another good bout of screaming. So I jumped up and walked around the house with her. I walked into the kitchen with her. I walked back into the living room with her. I walked her to the window to look out at the lack of hillbillies working on the house. I walked her back to the kitchen and got myself something to drink, which is what I remembered I’d wanted a while ago. Eventually, she began to get heavy, so I walked her back to the couch and bounced her on my knee singing “Mama’s Little Baby Loves Shortnin’ Bread,” only I don’t know any lyrics beyond the chorus so I began making some up involving Mama’s Little Baby’s Love of Ziggurats. (I have no idea where this came from, but apparently mama’s little baby really enjoyed Babylonian terraced pyramids.)
This singing and bouncing only worked for a few minutes before the baby decided she wasn’t having any more of it and began to kick and cry again. That’s when I realized what I was dealing with, here: this Baby was a Borg. Sure, I could get through her defenses for a bit, but soon she would adapt and her shields would return to full strength and she’d once again begin carving me up with her vicious sonic beams. I would have to continuously come up with new and more creative material if I was to stay ahead of the destruciton.
Then it hit me: a bottle! Beth had said something about the baby perhaps needing a bottle this afternoon. So I stuck her back in the saucer and ran to the kitchen to prepare one. Beth had already thoughtfull filled empty bottles with distilled water, so all I had to do was scoop in some carefully measured Enfamil while the baby raged. One dash back to the living room, one baby scooped out of the saucer and onto the couch, one bottle crammed in baby’s mouth and I had silence once more. For ten whole minutes. Then she finished the bottle and it was time for more squalling.
Pretty soon, the phone rang. It was Ashley calling to see how I was doing.
“When will you be home?” I whined.
“Not til 4:30 or 5. Why? Is everything okay?”
I told her about my Borg theory. She didn’t buy it.
“Just put her down on a blanket on the floor with her toys. I’ve seen her do it at Beth’s all the time. She’ll play there for hours.”
More screaming as I ran for a blanket, more as I spread it on our floor and dumped her bag of toys on it. She shut up for all of five seconds as I put her on the blanket, then opened up with more. So I began picking up her toys and giving them voices, entertaining her with a clumsy puppet show. It worked pretty well. She even seemed to like it when I made Eeyore scream in pain as she bit into his head. By the time this wore off, Data and Worf had rescued Captain Picard from the Borg vessel and I was wishing someone would rescue me.
Then a miraculous thing happened. When the Baby began screaming again, I didn’t know what else to do other than pick her up and rock her gently back and forth. After only a couple minutes, her screams turned to cries and then groans and then burbles and finally to little snores as she dropped off to sleep. I continued rocking until I was sure she was out, then I carefully put her on a big pillow and retreated to the kitchen where I quietly—oh, so quietly—lurked.
After 5, Ashley came home to relieve me of baby duty, though not of baby doody, as we soon came to discover. Fortunately, I’d gone through Beth’s Diaper Changing Boot Camp with this kid months ago, so even a spectacularly poopy diaper was nothing to fear.
Our weekend with The Baby, however, proceeded much as it had during the first four hours. We’d entertain the Baby, she’d get fed up with whatever we were doing and start to scream. Then we’d come up with new tricks or retry old tricks, they’d work for a bit, then fail. Or we’d discover that she was really crying because she was hungry/tired/teething/poopy/etc., we would apply fixes to said issues, they’d work for a bit, then fail again. Eventually The Baby would cry herself to sleep and we’d get an hour or so of peace during which we’d walk very very slowly and make no noise at all, terrified of waking The Baby.
I was worried about having to be up all night with this routine, for as I knew well in advance I’d be the guy to have to get up and deal with it all because my wife wants me to see just how much brutal, tiring work having a baby actually is—all so I’ll think twice next time I go cavalierly trying to impregnate her. Fortunately, though, The Baby slept through the first and second nights with only minor incidents of a midnight feeding or diaper switchout to speak of. She even slept right through a massive thunderstorm Saturday night, which was more than I could say for myself.
Bravely, we decided to take her out to lunch with us on Saturday. This involved putting her in her car-seat for the trip, which first involved figuring out how to install said car seat into my wife’s Element. Installing Baby into the seat was only slightly less difficult and involved me accidentally pinching her leg while trying to buckle the straps across her. I didn’t realize I’d done it until the Baby unleashed a scream of pain that rattled my very soul. We unbuckled her quickly and saw a small bruise already forming on her thigh.
“Aw, hell, Beth’s going to kill me,” I said. “Maybe she won’t notice.”
At the Mexican restaurant, The Baby feasted mightily on Mexican rice and demanded more after every spoon. But she remained well behaved so long as we were shoveling in the food. Afterward, we bravely took her with us to Wal-Mart where we had one of the most pleasant Saturday Wally World experiences ever. See usually when we’re dumb enough to head to Wal-Mart on a Saturday, we have an awful time of it because on Saturday THE WHOLE DAMN WORLD comes to Wal-Mart and it is glutted with people slowly—ever so slowly—shopping for whatever’s cheapest and least healthy, usually with 8 kids in tow. After struggling our way out of said glut, we swear and swear and swear we’ll never set foot in Wal-Mart on a Saturday again. Then a couple weeks go by and we’re back there like fools. This time, though, Wally World was only about a third as full as it usually is and we had our ambassador to The World seated in the child seat of our shopping cart. Ashley had attached a small stuffed toy on a cord to The Baby’s wrist and, as we strolled down the aisles, the Baby would flap it back and forth happily, beaming smiles at any and all who met her gaze. Our journey was accompanied by calls of “What a cute baby!” and “Oh, look at that baby!” and “Beautiful baby.” And we too beamed, like proud unofficial aunt and uncle.
At one point, we ran into some people we know from church. They did double and triple takes as they saw what we had in our cart, tried to do the math in their head as to when or if one of us had been pregnant at any point in the last 9 months, then cautiously said, “Is that…. um… your…?”
“Nope, she’s a friend’s.”
They looked relieved.
As blessedly well-behaved as The Baby was in Wal-Mart, she turned on the screaming again as soon as we got home. By Sunday afternoon, that act had worn very very thin and we were ready for Beth to take her away from us. When Beth phoned to let us know she was on her way, we asked about the whole screaming bit.
“Oh, just set her on the blanket with some toys and she’ll get over it after a few minutes.”
“That’s just it,” we said. “She doesn’t. She’ll scream at the top of her lungs for five minutes, stop and play for one and then return to screaming for five.”
“Just let her go,” Beth said. “She’s got to learn.”
So we did. We let her go. And go she did. For a solid hour that kid screamed and raged and shook her little fists at us. And the longer we let her go the more furious she became. She was so angry that it became comical and we soon found ourselves stiffling laughter. Still, we were afraid that she was becoming so upset that she’d throw up. Logic imposed itself on us and we decided that Beth shouldn’t have to see a distraught kid when she arrived, so we picked the Baby up and tried to give her a bottle. She remained viciously pissed off at us for twenty minutes, despite our efforts. I tell ya, that kid’s going to be a force to be reckoned with.
When Beth arrived, she’d no sooner walked through the door than she said, “All right, who hurt my baby?”
“You told her?!” I said to my wife in as an accusing a tone as I could come up with.
“No. I told you she’d know.”
Beth attended to The Baby’s bruised leg, gave it a smooch and admitted that she’d done as much herself by accident.
After The Baby and Beth had gathered up the mountain of baby supplies and departed, we sat in our house and enjoyed the silence. Eventually, we had to leave the house again, but when we returned home the place seemed a bit more empty than we remembered it.
How do I feel about my first taste of parenthood? It’s an acquired taste. Kinda salty and bitter in places, but with some good nougaty parts in there too. I think I could learn to like it.