My baby Cordelia just turned six months old. Six months is a half a year. That’s a lot of time in baby-days. She is a completely different creature than she was when she was first born. All the bloody slime has been wiped off, for example. And she is not desperately clinging to life. And she did not yet know how to be put on my head and worn as a hat.
She is still learning things. This week, she learned how to sit up on her own. And she knows how to tear off a huge chunk of newspaper with her mouth. And she even learned how to be taken onto an airplane by her mother for a week vacation while leaving daddy behind. I’m especially proud of her for learning the third one.
The Thousand Yard Baby Stare
Nothing makes babies interesting like having one. Parents size up each others’ offspring like ranchers eyeing prime beef on the hoof, gauging, analyzing, guessing ages, looking for signs of development. Where a childless person might see a pink, inert lump of need shaped like a melting scoop of ice cream, a parent would think “Hmm. Holding head upright. Signs of mouthing. Chapped cheeks … must be teething. Oh, and my baby is smarter and cuter.”
It can be very therapeutic to do this. It is always good to be reassured that your baby’s freakish behavior is normal or even, in fact, could be worse. Consider, for example, what I call the Thousand Yard Baby Stare. Cordelia spends huge amounts of time staring at things. Her face goes slack, her mouth hangs open in a particularly dopey way, and she looks at things. Very intently. Like a little, creepy homeless person.
She especially likes to stare at humans, primarily strangers. When she lets her mouth hang open and stares at people, they think she’s adorable. When I do the exact same thing, I found out, it’s not so cute. This is one of the many small bits of unfairness that makes being a parent so painful.
I wasn’t sure how normal this is. When you’re about to become a parent, people tell you about the crying, and the peeing, and the other dramatic things. Nobody says “Oh, and she will sit and stare like a shell-shocked trench war veteran.” But, now that she has started staring, I have noticed how many other babies of about the same age do it. Same slack jaw, same stare. It’s very comforting. My baby isn’t broken.
These days, I often look at other babies to reassure myself. For example, little Cordelia is often on fire. Nothing big. Smoldering. Smoke. The occasional small flames. This worried me, of course, until I noticed how many babies held by other people were the same way. Most babies just flame a little, but one toddler I saw in a restaurant the other day was totally ablaze. And, if you don’t have a child, I bet you never noticed that most small children are constantly on fire.
When you’re a parent, you notice these things.
I Know For Sure Nobody Told Me About This
So my wife and I are having dinner. Baby is sitting in her carrier on the table, playing with a toy and happily minding her own business. Wife and I are attempting to maintain a human-quality conversation.
Then the baby starts to grunt, in an unusually enthusiastic way. She’d grunt really loudly, and her face would turn bright red. Then she’d rest. And then she’d do it again. As we watched in horror, we realized that what she was doing was taking a difficult and enthusiastic crap.
The main reason I write this journal is that I want to record all of the things about parenting that completely took me by surprise, things that nobody bothered to warn me about. And this was definitely one of them.
It doesn’t matter how dedicated you are to remaining a civilized, sensible person in the implacable face of parenthood. It is impossible to maintain an adult conversation when someone is taking a noisy, beet-faced crap on the table in front of you.
Sure, I was told I would have to change dirty diapers. I can deal with the poo. But I was under the impression that my little girl would take her craps in a modest, quiet way, maybe with some cute little, bubbling, farty sounds. Once again, I find myself to be sadly deluded.
If she’s ever going to make a whistling noise when she pisses, don’t tell me. I don’t need to know.
Toys on the Cheap
I’ve been very apathetic about buying new toys for Cordelia. We got a few from friends. A few at the baby shower. And I just kept handing the same toys to her, and handing them to her, again and again, until even her tiny, undeveloped brain was going “Yes! Ok! It’s a yellow giraffe rattle! I GET IT! Cram it with walnuts, OLD MAN!”
Sensing her ennui, I started looking around the house for random things to hand her. Things which would engage her infant brain and, simultaneously, NOT KILL HER. For example, my wife’s big plastic comb was enthralling. I even thought to remove the used hair from it first.
I tried a bunch of other things, but the most successful object, by far, was a highly collectible pack of first edition Pokemon cards. It’s shininess, bright colors, and exciting shape were quite enthralling to her. She made it unsaleable for EBay in mere minutes.
This was very satisfying to me. You see, I own a lot of collectible objects. And I know she’s going to fuck them all up. So I’m just getting it over with now. At least, this way, I can get a quiet amused baby out of it.
Of course, this random object destruction process led to letting my baby chew on a newspaper. And that sure didn’t work out …
Horrible, Horrible Disaster Daddy
Sometimes, I think “I am a horrible, clueless person, a danger to my offspring, and I should not be allowed to have a child. If my child survives me, it will be a miracle.”
The other morning, I was eating lunch in the usual way. I was reading the lower half of the paper. Cordelia was tearing and chewing on the upper half. Both of us were very happy. Then Cordelia stopped chewing. She looked at me and starting drooling and making cute little “Keh” noises. She kept staring at me. Being Idiot Disaster Daddy, it took me 60 seconds of adding 2 and 2 to get the proper 4.
Then I quickly grabbed her, pried her mouth open (turns out, she doesn’t like this), and pulled out the square of newspaper that was stuck to her tongue. It was a decently sized chunk, a square over an inch to a side. Not good. Sadly, Cordelia has lost her newspaper privileges.
Of course, I’m sure some people might try to reassure me by saying “Oh, everyone has times like this. And their kids all get through it just fine.” To which I would respond, “Of course they do. Unless, of course, they don’t.”
Of course, I do have a special safety mechanism which keeps the baby safe from me. It’s my wife. When I leave change on the floor. When I put Cordelia in a stroller and don’t buckle her down. When I let homeless people hold her. Mariann is there to make sure I know that I am a Bad Daddy.
OK, I did not actually do one of those things. See if you can figure out which one. It’s like a puzzle.
But the most disturbing incident so far, for sure, is the newspaper incident. Fortunately for all of us, or at least all of us like me, babies never remember the horrible things that happened when they were six months old.
So there is no way Cordelia can ever find out about the newspaper incident.
Why I Suck.
My wife just took Cordelia for a week’s vacation with her family on the other side of the country. I am staying behind. Since expressing my true feelings about this week of freedom will only increase the resentment factor in our generally tranquil marriage, I will express my feelings about this event simply by saying “Woo.”