Staggering Into Fatherhood

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“Is he eating?”

One month into fatherhood, I ask this question several times a day now, usually after I’ve done my best to calm Coen down but have concluded in the face of continued fidgeting, fussing, grunting, and yells that there is only one thing that will work. Well, two things, but they’re both attached to Amy.

The problem-the reason I ask-is, what if I was wrong? What if he didn’t need to eat, after all, but I misinterpreted the signs and took the easy way out by handing him off? I’m glad to be able to report that I’m usually right, but “usually” is no consolation for mistakes during this period when mom is generally getting no more than an hour’s sleep at a time and sometimes even bares her teeth and growls a little when I wake her up.

Perhaps needless to say, then, Amy is looking forward intensely to the day when there is some option besides her chest for soothing the boy’s hunger pangs. We finally started introducing the bottle last week, with mixed results so far. He’ll take it, but only from time to time and never for a whole feeding yet. It’s like he doesn’t mind the artificiality as long as it’s just for an appetizer, but a towering rage comes over him as he begins to suspect that maybe chicken tenders are all he’s going to get, and here he was expecting the full lobster dinner. Breast feeding is probably the best part of his life right now, so I can’t blame him for wanting it to last.

Everyone says these years go by so fast, after all.

Here’s some other things that go by fast. Those couple of weeks when Coen couldn’t really see anything except the difference between light and dark? Yeah, those are gone. I miss those weeks, mainly because it was so easy to beat the boy at cards back then, but it’s exciting to see him beginning to take a genuine interest in his surroundings and, besides, he only ever paid out in IOUs anyway. There’s this wind-up musical mobile above his crib, and as soon as he hears the tinny notes of “Hush, Little Baby” start up, he whips his head toward the thing and watches, apparently fascinated, as six plush and vaguely psychedelic insects rotate past for his amusement. Similarly, he continues to be fascinated by the high-contrast black-and-white images we printed out from a baby web site and hung by his changing table and in his bassinet, sometimes staring at them for up to minutes at a time.

Other than the eating and the art appreciation, there is mainly a lot of fussing, screaming, and fussing and screaming, and that’s just Amy and I. Coen can also be quite noisy, showing an increasingly pronounced preference for sleeping only in someone’s arms as that person perambulates the living room and letting everyone know quite loudly when the ride isn’t jiggly enough. I suppose this is what happens to a baby whose mom spent a lot of time driving a Ford F-250 with bone-rattlingly stiff suspension along washboard Forest Service roads for three months of her pregnancy.

Still, I know we have it easy compared to some parents, which is easy for the one without breasts to say, but still. So far we have yet to experience the hours-long crying jags that come over some babies. Thanks for this goes mainly to the video version of The Happiest Baby on the Block, without which it would never have occurred to me that a good way to soothe Coen might be to cinch him straitjacket-tight in a blanket, turn him on his side under my right arm like a football, cradle his head in the palm of my left hand, and jounce him up and down with my right hand while shushing as loudly as I can.

When our neighbors, new parents of about ten months’ longer standing than us, learned we’d been watching this video, they asked, “don’t you just want to punch that guy in the face?” So I guess the methods of Dr. Harvey Karp, self styled as “the world’s best baby soother,” don’t work for everyone. But the theory propounded in the video-that, if it weren’t for our enormous brains, humans would probably spend a “fourth trimester” in the womb, and that much of the fussiness that gets lumped under the nebulous heading of “colic” (which I was interested to learn isn’t a diagnosable medical condition but basically just means “a baby who screams a lot and we don’t know why but maybe she has gas or something”) simply results from the baby’s unreadiness to be outside the womb-has the virtue of both consistently explaining a lot of Coen’s behavior and predicting what might help him calm down.

I don’t know about you, but those are the sorts of things I like in a theory, so we’ll stick with it for now.

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