Being a dad, watching my own baby should probably come up more than it does. The fact is, when you have a stay-at-home wife who is an all-around supermom, the opportunities to be solely responsible for my daughter are few and far between. I still call these rare occasions “babysitting,” even though my friends have pointed out that it’s not really babysitting when it’s for your own child.
I just finished my most recent round of babysitting, and now that I’m reflecting on the experience, I’m starting to understand why maybe I’m not allowed to do it very often.
To set the scene, I encouraged my wife to get a massage, a small token of appreciation for the work she does for us. Nothing says “thank you” quite like paying a stranger to grease up and poke at my wife for an hour.
Wife says she has to leave to make her 6 p.m. appointment. Starts to point out all of the various types of cloth I’ll need to use while caring for my daughter, making special effort to point out which ones I definitely can’t use on the baby’s face or special areas. Wife then gives me a walking tour of our own home to point out the various baby-related equipment I already use every day.
Wife says again she has to leave to make her appointment. Kisses baby and says goodbye. Hugs baby.
While hugging baby, wife once again says she needs to leave to make her appointment.
Wife says she needs to leave to make her appointment (which I silently note just started) as she pops out a boob to give baby one last taste before she leaves. I’m actually really glad she does this. Our daughter isn’t the best at accepting substitute nipples. Nipples on bottles, sippy cups, me – none of them has a high enough fidelity to trick her. We’re at a stage right now where the only food she’ll accept is milk straight from the source, no substitutions or exceptions.
Wife leaves for her 6 p.m. appointment. As the door closes, I put the baby in her high chair and sit across from her at the table. With the same enthusiasm you’d give your band of brothers before heading into war, I put my best effort into encouraging a successful campaign. I remind my daughter that it’s only an hour. I tell her about how much fun we’ll have and give her a rundown on the activities we can enjoy together. She’s only five months old, so these activities are really just reading books with no more than one word per page and making silly faces in the mirror, but nonetheless, I build them up to sound like we’re going to spend the day at Dave & Buster’s on Free Game Day. Finally, and most importantly, I make sure she understands that she just ate, so she shouldn’t be hungry until well after my wife returns.
My daughter shows first signs of being hungry. I kneel on the ground and say a prayer.
I inadvertently discover that my daughter giggles when I blow a raspberry against her fingers. What is it about tickling that turns the tickler into a psychopath? In that moment, I care not about her discomfort; all that matters is the giggle. Must continue to make her giggle. I’m no longer a father. I’m a drone programmed to extract giggles no matter the cost.
My daughter stops giggling at the hand raspberries after exactly three times. I try seven more times, before also trying five times on the other hand. My daughter looks at me and rolls her eyes.
“Tummy time!” During this sacred ritual, parents must say the magic phrase out loud, then gently position their baby stomach-side down. I give myself tummy time and lay down directly across from her. She instantly cries.
I rotate a dozen toys in front of her face, taking extra care to jingle the jingly ones. For the ones that don’t make noise, I just waft them in front of her face. “See, here’s your bunny!” I try softly touching the bunny’s ear to her face, a feeble attempt to get her to smile. More crying ensues.
Out of options, I flip her onto her back and give her a pacifier. She calms down instantly. Then flips herself over. Cries.
Enough tummy time – tis a silly practice. I pick her up and embrace her tightly against my chest. I quietly remind her that mommy will be back soon, and that if these current cries are because she’s hungry, she’ll just have to deal with it. Grow up, baby.
In a stroke of good luck, I walked past the mirror. The baby catches her reflection and laughs. And now she’s chill. She looks at me as if she hasn’t been crying for the past 16 minutes, like somehow I’m the one with the issue.
We’re having a great time! She’s just starting to sit up on her own, so I give her the opportunity to sit down on our fluffy carpet in the front room. It’s the greatest thing ever. She’s giggling at everything. She’s so entranced by the feel of the carpet between her fingers. She looks up at me and winks. I feel a warmth coming in through the window. It’s God. He’s telling me I’m a great dad.
While I’m looking out the window at God, baby falls backward. Instant hysterics. I scoop her up and parade her back to our special mirror. This time, no laughs. Just magnified tears. My baby is one giant tear.
I throw the Hail Mary pass. See, a few weeks ago, we discovered the secret way we can reset our baby. Remember when you used to play Nintendo, and you’d be running Roger Craig in for a touchdown on Tecmo Bowl when the screen would seize in an array of fractal patterns? In the same way you could hit the Reset button, we can simply take our baby outside. It’s amazing. No matter how upset she might be, with an easy trip outside, she reverts back to normal.
We’ve been outside for the past few minutes. Baby is sitting in her stroller and loving the experience. Despite the dried tear trails streaked down her cheeks, she’s in good spirits. Trying to avoid any actions that could upset this delicate balance, I just push the stroller in the same path back and forth on the sidewalk in front of my house.
Mommy’s almost home, so I begin preparations. I must create the illusion that the baby was definitely not crying the whole time. Once we’re back inside, I squat down in front of the baby and offer her one more pep talk. “Okay, baby, we just have a few more minutes to go. We’re in this together. And we’re going for Johnson’s Baby Shampoo, right? That is: No More Tears®.” She doesn’t get the joke, but goes along with it anyway.
I’m watching the clock like a pot that won’t boil. Baby is lying on her back playing with a little rattle thing. She’s happy. I win.
I start a Postmodern Jukebox playlist (a 50’s doo-wop version of Hanson’s MMMbop plays). I pick up the baby, and we start dancing in the dining room. It’s a magical moment. These are the memories I never want to forget. My heart is filled with so much love, I think it might burst. The baby has a huge smile on her face. She looks at me like I could do no wrong. She gives me a knowing smile that says, Mommy who? You’re all I need. I hug her tightly and wish this moment can last forever.
For no reason, baby starts crying. Mom walks in at exactly that moment.