It was a Sunday afternoon. We’d just gotten home from church. Tristan and Norah were in the kitchen eating lunch, Mel was in the bathroom, and Aspen, two months old, was lounging on the bed in an ugly black and white tiger print horseshoe shaped pillow that Mel got on sale.
Every time I hold Aspen, she cries. I try to play with her, and she cries. She started smiling a week or so ago. I’d seen photos of it on Mel’s phone. I heard about it from my kids. Tristan and Norah had told me all the tricks they’d used. Tickle her feet, play with her lip, make a funny sound, and I’d tried all of them. However, I’d only seen her smile once. In fact, with me, I ended up with the very opposite. A frown. A baby frown, which has to be the saddest frown in existence. And if I kept pushing it. If she frowned, and I didn’t stop tickling her feet, or making a funny sound, she cried.
I’ve already written about how I felt that our baby hates me, so I won’t go too much into that. But what I will say is that I felt really frustrated. I felt singled out by a baby. And when I read what I just wrote, I feel like a baby, but here we are.
I took off my jacket and tie. As I did, I spoke to Aspen. “You know,” I said. “I’m a really cool guy. Your brother and sister, they like me. I know you only want milk right now, but once you grow out of that, I’m always good for a cookie. I’m also a world class tickler.”
I went on like this, chatting with Aspen, hoping that she’d figure out what I was saying and decide that I was, in fact, an okay guy. My back was to her as I hung up my suit coat, and when I turned around she was smiling. I assumed she’d just seen something funny, or perhaps she had gas. But nope. She was looking right at me.
It was awesome!
I know it sounds ridiculous that I felt like my baby held a grudge against me, but look at it from my perspective. Every time Mel took a nap, it meant that I was holding a crying baby for a couple hours, pacing the house, doing everything I could to calm her down, and failing miserably. It was the same thing when Mel took a shower or went to the store. Every time I came home from work and tried to hold the baby, she cried. She smiled at everyone in the family before she smiled at me. I know she is young, and I understand that she will grow out of this. I know that she will one day find me to be a really cool guy, and get a thrill out of riding on my shoulders. But right then, in the throws of it all, I felt a little picked on. I felt like I was the only one who had to work hard to earn Aspen’s love.
I sat down on the edge of the bed, leaned over Aspen, and said, “You have a really cute smile. Does this mean that you don’t hate me?”
She smiled again, a big gummy smile, her arms wiggling.
Then she stopped, as quickly as she started. She didn’t cry or anything, instead she just looked up at me. So I pulled out the big guns. I grabbed one of her blankets that was on the bed, and started playing Peek-A-Boo.
I’d tried this before, and not surprisingly, it ended in tears.
Mostly from Aspen, but a few from me too. Not that I was emotional, more that I was trying really hard, and making some strange contortions with my face, hopeful that the more passion I put into the game, would result in more love from the baby.
I was wrong. In fact, thinking back, I probably just freaked her out.
This time, however, I played it cool. I peeked over one end of the blanket, and then the other. “Where’s Aspen?” I asked. “Where is she?”
And then, the big reveal. I dropped the blanket, and said, “Peek-a-boo.”
I changed my tone from low to high, as I said the word. I was in rare form. A peek-a-boo master. The kind of guy that people without kids look at and say, “That dude is pathetic. I’m never doing that when I’m a father.”
Get this. Aspen laughed! She let out the sweetest little giggle.
I didn’t realize it until then, but I’d really started to wonder how I felt about this baby. I’ve heard this from other parents, about how the baby was fussy with their father for the first few months, but I’d never experienced it first hand. I had no idea how it would make me feel. I didn’t realize that it would cause me to be unsure about our new baby. I didn’t realize that it would keep me from feeling a connection to her.
After hearing her sweet laughter, I said, “Aspen. You are OK.”
We played Peek-A-Boo for a while more. She giggled a few more times. I took a photo of her smiling on my phone, and then, Mel stole her away for a feeding.
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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, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, The Good Men Project, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
Photo by Lucinda Higley