This week, Joel Warner gives us some insight as to what it's like to be a part-time stay-at-home dad and a full-time neurotic obessessive with fantasies of prehistoric predators eating his young. Read his feature about the baby products industry here.
There should be a certification for this. We need a license to drive a car or, I assume, to be a plumber. Why isn’t there an official body that ensures you’re fully up to the task before they let us wander off with seven pounds and 14 ounces of squishy, goopy, poopy, completely dependent and mind-boggingly fragile life? I know for a fact no one checked me out four months ago when the doctor said, “Put you hands here and here,” and then, seemingly from out of nowhere (yes, I was there for the birth, but I still don’t completely grasp the physics of it) I was holding a baby. One that wasn’t going away. One that was mine.
Everything that’s happened since then has been somewhat of a blur. I do know that I’m still holding him and still have an expression that’s 90 percent bewilderment and 10 percent terror. Sometimes I look at him and wonder how, exactly, the human race has been able to survive as long as it has. Don’t get me wrong; my son’s amazing. Perfect, even. But he can’t actually do anything. Can’t walk, can’t talk. From what I’ve read, he probably won’t be able to do either very well for about 19 years. Even though all he consumes is milk, he still manages to choke on it all the time — a situation that sends me and my wife into constant paroxysms of terror. Milk? How do you choke on milk? Is there a special Heimlich maneuver for milk? This is why there needs to be a baby-certification board.
My two-day-old son added a new complication to the mix: He didn’t know how to poop. Stuff was going in, but it wasn’t coming out. This was a problem. After three days of worryingly clean diapers, our midwife suggested a procedure. I won’t go into the details, but I will say it was gross — and stupendously, immediately successful. I will never forget that moment, gazing in elation at my son’s bum. Angels sang from on high. My wife and I whooped and hugged and cried tears of joy. Over poop.
Other creatures come out with self-protective measures, like shells or spines or, say, the ability to run away. So how did we end up at the top of the food chain? If a prehistoric tiger walked up to a human baby, the child would want to suck on its sabertooth. Of course, I know how humans survived: Babies come equipped with mothers. It’s downright uncanny; moms are specially designed to care for babies in ways that go far beyond their obvious anatomical accoutrements. My wife, for example, always seems to know exactly what our son needs, the instant he needs it, and can simultaneously keep our house in working order. I’m pretty sure the two of them belong to a secret society, with its own secret language. It could be the Masons. My mixture of chromosomes, on the other hand, doesn’t provide me with any special baby-soothing abilities at all. I was designed to keep said tiger from said baby. That’s it.
Herein lies the problem. My wife and I, being thoroughly modern people (as well as quite poor), decided she would go back to work two days a week. My employers were kind enough to let me work from home those days so I can look after the kid. It’s an extremely generous arrangement, except for the fact that my bosses expect me to actually get work done while attempting to look after, in ways I am not evolutionarily equipped, an infant whose utter helplessness I’ve already detailed.
Thankfully I’m a reporter, which means my job entails sitting at a computer and typing — a task far easier to accomplish from home than the responsibilities of, for example, a construction worker or zeppelin driver. But that doesn’t mean writing articles while looking after a baby is easy. In a few short weeks, I’ve developed levels of multi-tasking I never thought possible. I’ve mastered the art of one-handed bottle feeding while transcribing phone conversations. I’ve driven around the same block 12 times with my son in his car seat, so I could talk with my editor without waking up the kid. I edit stories while changing a diaper, a correction pen in one hand, a wet wipe in the other. My son even naps in my lap while I do phone interviews, and if he happens to wake up and start crying, I just say, “Never mind the noise, Mr. Vice President, and stop evading my questions. What were you saying about those WMDs?”
Unfortunately, this doesn’t always work. There are times when baby’s schedule just doesn’t sync with that of my editors'. Today was one of those days. I had a three o’clock deadline on a story that couldn’t be late. I did everything in my power to keep everything in line. The baby was fed, the interviews were finished. At 2:30, my son was asleep, and I was calmly typing away, knowing I was going to make my deadline. It would be close, but I had just enough time. But then my son woke up. And started crying.
I lied about that whole evolutionary thing. I was designed with one innate parenting skill: If a baby cries, I know, deep down, that I need to go to it. Comfort it. Make the horrible, horrible noise stop, for the love of God, stop. But this time, I couldn’t do that. I had to get the story done. As the baby monitor wailed its awful condemnation, I pounded furiously on the keyboard, my soul rebelling against me, my self hatred swelling.
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It was right about then that I started to go a little crazy. For example, I started wishing I could put my son in a little container. Not a scary, evil container, the type of thing that would inspire the latest “Your child is in mortal danger; tune in at 9 to find out how!” segment on the local news. No, I was imagining a happy container, one that would satisfy all his needs while at the same time making the house deliciously, blissfully quiet. You think I’m a little sick in the head? Obviously you’re not a parent.
After what seemed like an eternity, I finished the story, sent it to my editor and rushed upstairs to my son. I was ready to do anything else necessary to win back his trust, which I was sure I had lost. I could feel the scarlet letters branded for all eternity into my chest: “DD” for “deadbeat dad.”
My son immediately stopped crying when he saw me — and grinned. It was a massive smile, filled with unconditional love and delight.
Thank God I wasn’t a sabertooth. –- Joel Warner