NOTE: this post is rated PG for very mild strong language and insinuations of antisocial acts.
The other night was rough. First, our cat Misha—despite getting her typical middle-of-the-night breakfast—continued meowing plaintively and scratching at the kitchen door, a short flight of stairs down from our bedroom. Then our six-year-old, Lindsay, climbed into bed with us, having had a nightmare. (The nightmare was probably my fault; my bedtime story was a bit on the scary side, involving an ancient girl who was terrified at mistaking a helicopter, which she’d never seen before, for a giant dragonfly.)
In our bed, Lindsay did her semaphore routine, all elbows and knees, continually jabbing me, all the while loudly sucking on her fingers. Countless times I dropped back off to sleep only to be reawakened. She kept resituating herself, smoothing down her special blanket or adjusting her special pillow, which she’d brought in with her. When morning came and my alarm went off I was pretty much awake anyway, but far from rested. Of course, following all this Lindsay slept like a baby all morning. Here she is, still lounging in bed with Misha, our other nighttime nuisance, hours later.
Not that I’m complaining! These are the salad days, after all, sandwiched between the terribly difficult infant/toddler years and the dreaded teen years (which I’m told are particularly hard on parents of daughters). What’s a bad night of sleep here and there compared to the rigors new parents face, of night after sleepless night, and all those diapers on top of it? I’ll never forget the shock of bringing our firstborn, Alexa, home from the hospital and faking it as parents as we tried to learn the ropes.
The following stories are taken from an e-mail I wrote to my brothers and parents, probably as a plea for sympathy, when Alexa was about three weeks old. I reread that e-mail with a shudder, and a delicious sense of relief that those tough times are behind me.
Diaper Meltdowns – October 1, 2001
Erin, to my surprise, is handling the lack of sleep much better than I am. Perhaps it’s a new-mother hormone thing, or perhaps she’s just a better person than I, but she has a lot more patience. She does complain a lot about the cat, though, or so it seems. Every few hours she points out another thing the cat is doing wrong, the poor cat who micturates in her catbox and thus requires no changing, and never cries but instead meows rather demurely and sweetly, who is trying to adjust to the new household situation, which includes cruel banishment from the bedroom because she won’t stay out of the baby’s bassinet. But other than her complaints about the cat, Erin is pretty stoic. (Actually, she probably doesn’t complain about the cat all that often, but in my deranged, frazzled state, it seems to me that she does.)
Yesterday morning I pretty much boiled over. I was trying to change Alexa, and the towel we’d put down on the changing table was wet from an earlier changing (she tends to let loose right when you’ve got her diaper off), and so I wadded it up so that I wouldn’t soil her still-dry outfit, and set her down on this wadded lump, and then saw that she had this major boogerage in her eye (clogged tear duct), so I ran to the bathroom, jumping over a massive pile of bedding that was right in my way (it had been torn off the bed the previous night when Alexa had a diaper blowout).
The reason I ran to the bathroom, instead of walking, is that Alexa was screaming her head off, as though I were shoving bamboo beneath her fingernails. Then it took forever, like it always does, to get hot water out of the tap, and the screaming continued, loud enough to drown out my cussing, and then when the hot water finally came out, I knew that the washcloth would never hold the heat long enough to be comfortable because it’s a “baby” washcloth with less fabric in it than a Post-It would have it were made of molecule-thick cloth. Then I realized that the baby was in a precarious place because of the way I’d wadded up the towel on her changing station, and I feared she’d roll into the space heater we have on the table (to keep her warm during changes) and burn herself.
I leapt over the pile of clothes again, cleaned up the eye, changed the diaper, then realized that despite my best efforts, hazardous as they’d been to the welfare of the child, her outfit was in fact soiled, so I had to leap over the pile again to find an outfit from the bureau near the door. We have approximately 300 outfits for Alexa, many of which won’t fit for weeks or months, some of which haven’t been washed yet (we always wash new clothes lest the chemicals used in their manufacture irritate her skin), and some of which are the wrong type (i.e., sleeveless vs. sleeved) for a chilly morning. I finally found one, after a frantic period of searching (frantic because of the screaming, and because of the knowledge that my lovely daughter at any moment might roll into the space heater, which had become a half-ton ball of burning thermite in my mind), and again hurdled the giant pile of bedclothes.
Now I realized that I couldn’t change her on the changing table because of the vast flood of urine that had soaked everything despite my most irresponsibly dangerous wadding measures. So I moved her to the bed, and tried to wrangle her into her fresh garment. It had about 300 or so snaps, and not all of the male pieces are on one side of the garment. You need a degree from MIT to figure out how to snap everything into place. It’s not symmetrical either, and of course no two baby garments have even a remotely similar design. My fury at this point had invaded every cell of my body except from the wrists down, which I managed to control lest I accidentally harm my child. Finally I gave up and shouted “F––– THIS THING!” and hurled the offensive garment to its death. Actually, it didn’t even suffer from the landing, the damn thing, and I couldn’t pick it up and rend it into a thousand pieces, which would have been my choice, because it had Erin’s friend’s initials on the tag, meaning it’s only a loaner and has to go back, clean and intact, to its rightful owner, who can bloody well have it back right now as far as I’m concerned, perhaps soaked in my own urine since this godforsaken garment from hell will never touch the skin of my precious daughter.
So instead of rending the garment into a thousand pieces I did the flip-off dance. [Note to albertnet readers: you’ll just have to imagine this dance. I’m not posting a video.] It only helped a bit. Then I had to hurdle the fiendish pile of bedclothes once again, find another damn outfit from the 600 in the drawer, evaluate it not just in terms of size and laundering status but also in terms of the likelihood that I’d be able to properly fasten all the snaps along its bizarre appendages and whatnot. I found one, hurdled the pile of bedclothes yet again, and put the new garment on Alexa, who had been continuing to scream bloody murder the whole while, at a decibel level that guarantees she has a V02 max surpassing Lance Armstrong’s.
Having finally got my daughter changed, I picked her up, carefully ascended the Col du Bedclothes, made it safely down the other side, and brought the squalling youngster downstairs to her mother, who I hoped would be sitting on the couch, boob out, ready to nurse the baby into silence. Instead, Erin was vacuuming, further rubbing my nose in her superior ability to withstand lack of sleep. I sat down with Alexa and bounced her on my knee, trying to calm her down, and then Erin says, “Well, the cat is ruining this expensive rug.” This pretty much put me over. “Well, should we just put her to sleep then?” From my standpoint at the time this response was perfectly justified. Of course, from Erin's perspective—the more lucid one—my utterance must have seemed utterly bizarre. After all, she had given me the night off by sleeping with Alexa in the guest room, and was occupying her short period of respite from the baby by vacuuming, and had made a fairly innocent comment about the state of our handmade Turkish rug, and got shocking vitriol in response. Not a perfect domestic scene.
That’s not my first blowup, nor perhaps my most spectacular. The other night, I was trying to assemble the Diaper Genie, and could not get the damn thing to work. I don’t even want the Diaper Genie, and we’re only using disposables for a short time, but I figured we have it and should go ahead and use it. But I absolutely could not figure out how to install the bags that are supposed to hold the soiled diapers into a long linked-sausage configuration. Finally, after what was really only a couple of minutes, I became furious at it. It had no instructions, and didn’t seem particularly intuitive. The “refill,” which seems like a stupid name for the bag cartridge that was really the very first one ever installed, had directions on it, but they become obscured in step 2 out of 5 when you put the cartridge into the Genie. Now there’s a smart design! I had to keep pulling the cartridge out and reading ahead. It just didn’t make sense. I figured this thing had to be intuitive enough for the least educated, least intelligent trailer trash Diaper Genie owner to use; why couldn’t I, a college-educated Network Design Engineer, get it to work? I beat on the top of it with my fist, and then hurled it noisily down the stairs, much to the amazement and amusement of Erin and her friend, who’d come over to cook us a meatloaf and help out.
I phoned a couple of other new parents, for whom we bought a Diaper Genie years ago, and after a long period of intense discussion and troubleshooting we determined that what I have is an old, small-mouth DG in the box of a new, large-mouth DG, with the “refill” for the new, large-mouth DG. This is why it wouldn’t fit. Probably somebody re-gifted us a barely-used but obsolete DG, throwing in the modern-style refill to make it look new. But that won’t stop me from marching into Target with it and demanding a replacement. If they don’t pony up, I’m going to spread model airplane cement all over the damn thing and torch it right there on the showroom floor.
Baby peripherals aside, child-rearing is a hoot. Alexa is great. She’s getting cuter by the day, and is generally a very sweet baby. She’s a bit gassy, which is a bummer for everybody, and we can’t seem to burp her. But she’s eating up a storm nonetheless. I love to hold her and offer up my index fingers, which she grabs in her fists. We’ve even figured out how to get her, sometimes, to take the pacifier. That’s a big help because I can’t just sit there 24-7 with a finger in her mouth, and she does love to suck.
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