Mel and I took Aspen to the doctor for her two-week appointment. Our pediatrician was a short woman with brown hair and a round waist named Dr. Dodge. She was really friendly, and really smiley, and sometimes, when I chat with her, I think about how much she reminds me of a kindergarten teacher.
Aspen was weighed, and examined.
She pooped on the examination table. It seems that all of our kids have done that. It’s a real trend in our family.
We asked the doctor about this and that, and then Dr. Dodge said, “How are Tristan and Norah adjusting?”
Mel and I looked at each other. Then I said, “Well… Norah is crapping her pants again. Which is unusual and frustrating. And Tristan has been really quiet and spends a lot of time shut in his room.”
Doctor Dodge nodded. Then she said, “Adjusting to a new sibling can be really difficult for little ones. Here is what I suggest. You need to make sure that they feel loved, but sometimes it’s best to do it when they aren’t looking. I always tell parents to sneak up behind the kids, and give them a big hug. Surprise them with it. Fill them with love. See what happens.”
In theory, it sounded like a good plan. I wanted to ask her what to do about helping Mel feel better, but I felt it was best not to bring it up while she was around.
Later that evening, I snuck up behind Tristan and gave him a huge squeeze!
“I love you big guy!” I said.
Tristan giggled and said, “I love you too, Dad. Want to see the book I got from the book fair?”
He smiled up at me, and I knew we were good. I was surprised that worked. It was so simple. But frankly, Tristan is an easy kid.
Naively, I assumed that Norah would have the same response.
Norah was putting something in the garbage when I snuck up behind her. I gave her a big hug from behind. She screamed like I was attacking her, so I tried harder. I picked her up off the ground.
“I love you!” I said.
Norah squirmed and screamed louder. Then she started trying to kick me in the crotch. I’m not sure where she learned to do that, but thinking back, it’s probably a good life skill. I just snuck up behind her like a predator. She had every right to kick me in the crotch.
I set her down, and she looked at me like I was crazy. She stomped her little foot and said, “Daddy! Don’t ever do that again!”
“It was a sneak hug,” I said. “Dr. Dodge told me to do it.”
Norah looked confused at the mention of Dr. Dodge. Then she said, “Dr. Dodge is…” she struggled to find the right word… “A fart-face!”
Then she stormed into her room.
I even tried the sneak-up method on Mel. She was in the kitchen, getting a glass of water. I snuck up behind her and gave her a gentle hug. (She was still recovering. I felt it was best not to try and pick her off the ground like I did Norah.). And then I kissed the back of her neck “I love you,” I said.
“What are you trying?” she asked. “I had a baby a few days ago. It’s not going to happen.”
“I just wanted to say that I love you.”
Mel turned around and looked at me with suspicion, like the only time I ever hugged her from behind was when I wanted sex. Thinking back, sadly, this is probably accurate, but at the time I was offended.
“Show me that you love me by changing Aspen’s bum,” she said.
She handed me the baby, then she walked away.
At this point I started getting frustrated. I was sleep deprived, my kids were being fussy, and my wife was recovering. Without realizing it, I started to snap at people. Mel in particular. She asked me why I didn’t put her breast covers in the laundry, and I said, “You know… I did a lot of things right today!” When she asked me why I didn’t put Aspen’s play gym away before I went to bed like she asked, I said, “There’s a lot going on right now. I can’t remember every stupid thing you tell me.”
But much like the kids, and Mel, I didn’t fully realize that I was starting to act like a jerk. People often talk about how joyful an occasion childbirth is, but actually, it’s a good year of regular crying, sleepless nights, spit up, no dates, few family outings, little sex, and arguing over who’s responsibility it is to do what. Every time someone says congratulations, it makes me want tell them shut their mouth until the baby is at least a year old. Then you can congratulate me for keeping my sanity and not getting divorced. Making the baby, hell, that was fun. But surviving the pregnancy and the first year of life, now that is an accomplishment.
You would also enjoy, The Questions I’ve Been Asked Since Having A Newborn (and the answers I would love to give).
Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, and a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His essays on parenting and marriage have been featured in New York Times Motherlode, Huffington Post Parents, Huffington Post Weddings, and The Good Men Project. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
Photo by Lucinda Higley