Tag Archives: Fiction

Babybonic Plague

What is the half-life of the daycare cold? That’s what I’d like to know. Somewhere a scientist is carbon-dating a pterodactyl’s knuckles, but does anyone really care? I mean, it’s not like there are any pterodactyls left, right? (Or is this one of the animals you only see at the zoo?)

We were, of course, told that children are germ monsters and that sending your child to daycare meant she’d bring home every virus and bacterial infection that had ever graced your part of the country—including but not limited to Small Pox, Bird Flu, and the Bubonic Plague—but nobody said it would happen on day one.

Baby Plague moved through our apartment like WiFi, filling every nook and cranny and leaving in its wake piles of used Kleenex and collapsed, napping parents. Then, just when we thought it had passed, a second wave rocked our tiny home. Susan thinks it will leave when our last (as-yet-unborn) child finishes daycare—a hypothetical time-period measured not in years but in decades. I’m not so optimistic. I’m beginning to feel this is incurable. “How did you go?” St. Peter will ask me. To which I’ll reply, with a proud father’s gleam in my eye, “Oh just Baby Plague. Did I already mention I have a daughter?”


Baby Plague moved through our apartment like WiFi, filling every nook and cranny and leaving in its wake piles of used Kleenex and collapsed, napping parents.


There are things you don’t realize when becoming a parent. Namely, that to love your daughter means becoming a mouth-breather, but also that her precious, barely-audible cough will transform into a hacking, wheezing pestilence once your immune system starts taking a crack at it. You also don’t realize that you’ll only get to tell your daughter “I love you” for the first three months, because once daycare starts you’re going to “lub” her.

But who doesn’t love blowing their nose all day, sneezing in the middle of meetings, and napping through their evenings? On second thought, I love naps! Or rather, I lub them. Further still, what winter in Kansas has my immune system not been utterly compromised, issuing in weeks of sniffling, eye watering, and chicken soup? And sometimes all in the same bowl. Cold season is, well, just that. At least this year we get an adorable baby to blame it on.

What makes it all worthwhile is Bonnie’s gratitude. I can tell that she’s grateful because right after I change her diaper, swaddle her, read her a bedtime story—usually a longish one by Dr. Seuss—and put her in the bassinet, I lean down and my daughter thanks me. She thanks me in her inscrutable but transfixing baby language…by sneezing in my mouth.

Fatherhood 101

“I don’t have to go. If you’re not feeling well, I mean,” the father-to-be said.

“No, you should definitely go,” the mother-to-be replied. And then sucking in air and grabbing her side: “You have to learn what to do if the baby’s choking.”

“Oh, I know all about that,” he dismissed her.

“Oh yeah? What do you do first?” she asked.

“That’s easy. First I put out my cigar.”

She glared. He smiled. She smiled.

“But really, I’m sure there’s something useful. Baby CPR, how to check allergies, something…”

When the father-to-be arrived, two minutes late, the instructor had already started talking. “Imagine this: It’s been a long day at work, you’re exhausted, your wife hands you the baby and then vanishes out the front door, car keys in hand. The baby is crying and nothing will work. Should you or should you not…shake your baby?”

A twenty-something in the front row raised his hand tentatively. “No? You shouldn’t shake your baby?”

“That’s correct,” the instructor said enthusiastically. “You should never shake your baby. No matter how much it screams.”

What sort of class am I in? the father-to-be thought then. I knew I was a little smarter than the average bear but…

“Okay, now here’s a trickier one. Heisman pose. Should you or should you not hold your baby like a football for comedic effect?”

“No?” the class asked in unison.

“That’s correct, and do you know why?” Again the teacher’s pet up front raised his hand.

“Because you might drop the baby?”

“Exactly.” Now he moved over to the whiteboard and wrote in big block letters “FOOTBALL” and then crossed it out. “You should just never treat your newborn like a football. That means no passing it or punting it. You can hand it off, but only in a gentle, head-supporting manner, and only if you have a good eye on your running back.” They then proceeded to name off items you shouldn’t treat your baby like, which included but was not limited to a Frisbee, a hula hoop, a Christmas-themed nutcracker, and a driver’s license.

“Having a baby does not prove that you’re 21, so let’s stop taking out kids to the bars with us, shall we?”

Who is doing these things? the father-to-be wondered. But then a car seat came up on the PowerPoint and so he readied his pen to start taking notes.

“Your car seat,” the instructor started and then gave a too-long pause. Some of the men looked at each other in confusion. Others, thinking they’d reached a break, got up and walked into the hall. Finally, those remaining in the room checked their iPhones and waited for the instructor to resume. “…is not a third parent. You should use it for traveling, not for sitting all day in the living room. You should not put it outside on the porch at night so you don’t hear the crying. You should not put it on the kitchen table and then take a three-day business trip. I learned that one the hard way.”

Just then the father-to-be realized that he was going to make a great father. He knew how to not treat his baby like sports equipment, and he knew the importance of not leaving children strapped in a chair for days on end. Perhaps that’s why these classes existed, to reassure you that you knew more than you thought.

“Okay, now for the real meat of the class: Infant First Aid.” The instructor then detailed 40,000 ways the world was going to conspire to kill their babies–from brain bleeds and fatal allergic reactions to infants drowning in half an inch of water and electricity exit wounds in tiny feet–and with each section, he told them a handful of stories from the ER and his EMS days. When it was all over an hour and a half later, the instructor asked for any questions. The father-to-be raised his hand tentatively over his head. He didn’t even know what he needed to ask. He just knew that he didn’t know anything.

“Yes?”

“You mentioned the poison control number, but you didn’t give us the, um, other one. For the electrocution people.”

“For an ambulance?” the instructor asked.

The father-to-be nodded.

Then without any sign of a smirk, the instructor replied, “Just dial 9-1-1.”

“Dang it, I knew that one,” the father-to-be muttered to himself.

The room nodded.

“At the end of the day, you have to know in your heart that you’re being a good dad. Your little son or daughter isn’t going to high five you when you get it right. They’re not physically capable.”

The father-to-be wrote hurriedly in his notebook: Babies cannot high five. It was not the last stupidly obvious fact he would struggle to commit to memory.

Gyrle (n.) – Boy or Girl

Is it better to have a boy or a girl? That’s not a rhetorical question. I’m really asking. When I was four, I used to wedge myself in between the wall and refrigerator and yell out, “Help! I’m stuck!” It was my mom’s least favorite game. Meanwhile, half a country away, my wife-to-be was stomping the life out of a loaf of bread because her parents refused to get her a treat at the grocery store. So in my mind, as long as it’s our kid, it’s going to be a toss-up.

Following her older sister’s lead, Susan decided not to find out the baby’s gender—and I agreed. Some are baffled by this decision. Others are excited for us. And then still others seem positively affronted. They were going to tell us some gender-specific bit of advice, and now they can’t. “Well, do you have names picked out at least?” they ask. “We do, but they’re a secret.” To this they reply a weak, “Oh,” and walk away somberly. This is by far the rarest bunch—so rare that I’m not even sure why I included them at all, but I did include them. So there.

I suppose I included them because of their unrelenting curiosity. We were all curious when my nephew was on the way. Our niece, Katie, was pining for a little sister. She would listen intently to her mama’s tummy, decode what she heard, and then relate it to us: “Grazie told me she is a gore,” Katie announced. Grazie was our nephew’s tummy name. And gore was Katie-speak for “girl.” Obviously.

We were all baffled when Teddy proved himself very much a boy some weeks later. But none so much as Katie. “Why did he tell me he was a gore, Daddy?” she asked.

Without missing a beat, Matthew explained that brothers can be tricksters.

Perhaps it wasn’t that Teddy tricked her. Maybe she just confused the message. In my reading I recently came across a Middle English word, gyrle, which could mean either a girl or a boy. Maybe in some primordial, womb language, Teddy was just trying to say, “I’m here, I’m a little person, and I can’t wait to meet you!”

Boy or gore, Katie or Teddy, we’ll be happy either way, so what’s the point of shaking the box? In a few months we’ll be receiving the great gift, and I don’t see how we could possibly improve upon it. Also, by the way our little trickster has been stomping on Susan’s bladder the second she sits down, I’m not sure there’s any way we’ll be ready.

Thirty-Two

lamb

“Then one of the Twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?” They paid him thirty pieces of silver, and from that time on he looked for an opportunity to hand him over.”
—Matthew 26:14-16

This morning Katie and Jimmy are learning about the potters fieldthe one where Judas Iscariot was buriedfrom their grandma. Katie is my niece and Jimmy is my nephew, and even though Katie is almost two years older than her brother, they are roughly the same size.

All morning their mom peddles adventures and mysteries and absurdist chronicles about greedy pigs and dry pancakes to the local children at her school, and then she comes home to her big family of little people. And in the meantime their grandma, Joan, prays and sings and reads scripture with them, counting out thirty pieces of silver with Katie and playing Who Loves Who More with Jimmy.

“Tell her how much more,” Katie finally suggests to end the infinite loop of “No, I love you more.”

Jimmy thinks for a moment and then shouts with all the ardor and volume of a two-year-old, “32! I love you 32!”

When I stop to think about how much I’ve been forgiven fornot just the times I almost died and didn’t, but the catalog of sins venial and mortal, the promises I made to God and my fellows and then broke immediately, the myriad separations from Him in my words and in my thoughtsI can’t help but feel impossibly blessed and grateful, grateful for what I’ve received and what I’ve managed not to lose. But what leads the procession, where I start every time, is this love like Jimmy’s that overpays any debt I could acquire.

Day Care

The following was inspired by our first two weeks of day care visits.


Day Care

“This is where the children play,” the woman said cheerily.

She gestured toward the flat bed of a pickup truck. The edge was surrounded by a makeshift wooden fence that looked like it had been made out of old orange crates.

“Oh, this shouldn’t be here,” she said and hastily moved a ball of barbed wire out of our path. “We use that to keep our cows in the pasture. And to keep out the… well, you know.”

We really didn’t know.

“I assure you we don’t let the children play with it.”

My wife and I looked wearily at the truck bed. In one corner there was a bag of mostly broken crayons. In another an ExerSaucer covered in tiny plastic frogs and giraffes.

The woman must have noticed our concern, because then she launched into the defensive: “I know what you’re thinking. This doesn’t look very exciting.”

Actually that wasn’t what we were thinking at all.

“But when we take this puppy out on the open road, the ExerSaucer starts bouncing all around and the crayons are rolling this way and that, and the kids just love it.”

“You drive it around?” my wife asked weakly.

Just on the dirt roads,” the woman said firmly. “I treat these babies just like I treated my own.”

Treated? I thought.

“I guess all that’s left is for me to show you my state certifications. They’re up on the wall of our play kitchen. I am required by law to tell you that we also let the children play with these real kitchen utensils—spoons, a cheese grater, butter knives, serrated knives, a cleaver, and the oven. Oh but don’t worry, the oven only works half the time.”