Wednesday, November 12, 2014

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Keeping A Baby Quiet Is A Lot Like Hell

Photo by Caitlin Regan

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I was on the porch, holding a screaming one-month-old, trying to keep things quiet so my wife could take a nap. It was hell.

For the first three months or so of Aspen’s life, she hated me. Every time I held her, she cried. Sometimes if I looked at her, she cried. It really didn’t take much for this sweet little blue-green-eyed baby to get worked up, particularly when it came to her father. I really struggled with this. When Tristan and Norah were babies, they loved me. But at the same time, we bottle-fed the first two kids, and Mel was breastfeeding with Aspen. I had to assume that much of Aspen’s hatred for me came down the fact that I didn’t have breasts. I was discriminated against by a baby. It was total bullshit.

About 10 minutes before I went outside, Mel had fed the baby, gotten her to sleep, and then put her down in the bouncer.

“I’m going to take a nap,” she said. “If the baby wakes up, you can come and get me.”

It was a Sunday afternoon. Mel was still recovering from her C-section. She’d been up in the night more than me because she’d been feeding the baby. She had plenty of good reasons to want to take a nap, but at the same time, I really didn’t want her to because I knew that if she went to sleep, and the baby woke up, I’d be dealing with a terrified, screaming, dewy-eyed little person for an hour or more.

To make matters worse, I knew Mel’s offer for me to get her up if that baby woke was a trap. She was in the moody stage of post-pregnancy. If I woke her up, everyone would suffer.

And sure enough, Aspen woke up about five minutes after Mel went to bed, took one look at me, opened her eyes wide, and drew her face to a line. Her look seemed to say, “You’re not mommy! You’re that creepy compulsive tickler man who won’t stop saying peek-a-boo.”

And she started crying in big, terrified screams, which stopped just long enough for her to take a breath, and then started again.

During Aspen’s first month of life, I’d never been able to get her to stop crying. We live in a 1,000-square-foot house, so there was no way I could keep Mel from hearing the baby. There are so many moments as a father and husband that I find myself between a rock and a hard place. There really was no way to win.

Tristan, our short, buzz-headed 7-year-old, was in the living room playing with the iPad. And Norah, our small 5-year-old, was in the kitchen eating a snack. Tristan looked up from the iPad when Aspen started screaming and said, “Aspen hates you.”

“No she doesn’t,” I said. “She just hasn’t learned how to love me yet.”

“Nope,” he said with a smug little grin. “She hates you.”

Then Norah got involved. “The baby doesn’t hate daddy. She just thinks he smells funny. Stop farting, daddy. Then Aspen will love you.”

As strange as this comment was, although most comments from five-year-olds are a little strange, she did have a point. Recently a friend was telling me that sometimes a new baby dislikes the father because they don’t smell like the mom. So I tried tricking her. One of Mel’s shirts was in the living room. I placed it over my shoulder, then picked up Aspen, placed her head on the shirt, and stepped out onto the porch.  

I bounced her. I tried to calm her. I paced back and forth for some time. Neighbors walking down the street stared at me like there was something wrong with the baby, or perhaps I was doing something wrong. And in fact, as I listened to her cry, I assumed that I was, indeed, doing something wrong. It was so frustrating that I couldn’t get this baby to stop crying… ever. It really did feel like Aspen hated me, her own father. It’s not that I didn’t spend time with her. It’s not that I wasn’t trying to be a good dad. I wasn’t abusive or anything. But never the less, she hated me, and I wondered what I could do about it. Was I, in fact, stumbling along as a father, doing something that brought all of this on? I didn’t know.

All of these thoughts ran through me as I paced back and forth along the patio, trying not to get frustrated, trying not to feel like a failure, when suddenly I realized that Aspen was asleep. I was so wrapped up in my own thoughts that I didn’t realize that somehow, I’d calmed her. Perhaps it was Mel’s shirt, or maybe she just finally wore herself out. Perhaps she finally accepted the fact that I wasn’t going to give up, so she might as well love me. I don’t know, but what I can say is that I felt a really strong sense of satisfaction.

I brought sleeping Aspen into the house and gave Tristan a smirk that seemed to say, “I got the baby to sleep. See. She doesn’t hate me. Put that in your rainbow and see if it shines.”

Tristan went to say something, but I put my hand up and whispered, “Don’t ruin this.”

I thought about placing her in the bouncer, but instead, I sat on the sofa, letting her sleep on me, enjoying the moment. 

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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 work has been featured in Good Morning America, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, The Good Men Project, Fast Company, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter
Photo by Lucinda Higley