This holiday season brought a whole plethora of new experiences to my nine-month-old daughter. And to me, too. It was awesome seeing her interact with new toys, bright lights and lots (and lots) of family. But new things aside, I learned that Christmas with a baby isn’t that much different than Christmas without one. You follow the same traditions, and aside from a few shifts in schedules and a general lack of sleep, we did pretty much the same things back in 2016.
That being said, I did notice a big shift in the things I said. Here’s a collection of questions I found myself asking over and over again this holiday season.
“What’s that song?”
So I had this tune stuck in my head. As it played on an endless loop in my head, for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what song it was. I hummed it to my wife who instantly recognized it. She said, “That’s the song the elephant plays.” Ah, that’s right. My daughter has an elephant toy that plays a melody each time she hits the button. That six-note tune was stuck in my head.
Gone are the days when I’d find myself absentmindedly whistling the tune to “Tainted Love” or “Call Me Maybe.” Traditional Top 40 earworms are a thing of the past. Now, when I have a song stuck in my head, it’s from a toy my daughter got for Christmas.
“Hey, can you hand me that bow?”
Remember near the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (spoiler alert) when Indy hangs precariously from his dad’s arms, and in a moment of weakness, puts all his effort into reaching out for the Holy Grail, even though it might mean sacrificing his life? In that moment, his face says it all. His eyes ablaze with desire, he doesn’t just want the Grail, he physically craves it. That look of intensity on his face – my daughter had the same look whenever she saw this little purple, curly bow.
Sure it would distract her from her other presents, but it was also a very effective emotion neutralizer. Fussy? Give her the bow. Whiny? Give her the bow. Sleepy? Give her the bow. I didn’t try it, but I suspect now that it could have alleviated her gas pains.
“How about this? Does it match?”
See, when you go out as a family, it’s a requirement that all members dress in outfits that either match or coordinate. The more significant the event, the more everyone’s clothes have to match. Heaven help the poor father that doesn’t wear an outfit perfectly matching his wife’s pashmina and his daughter’s headband. Dads, you either match or you find yourself a new family.
This year’s Christmas theme was buffalo plaid. Yep, that’s the term for that bold red and black plaid print you most often see on Paul Bunyan. He had no idea how trendy he was. My family and I dressed up in our finest buffalo plaid outfits (no, that’s not an oxymoron) and headed to the candlelight service at my church. Low and behold, buffalo plaid was the “in” pattern this year – at least a dozen other families were also wearing it.
“Is she asleep?”
As a general rule, my daughter sleeps pretty much when she wants to. It’s ironic that she’s so fickle when it comes to sleep because she gets extra cranky when she hasn’t napped. This holiday season, our routine was off, so we had to revolve most of our activities around what would give our daughter the greatest opportunity to nap. This year, I wished for good baby naps more than I wished for world peace.
Our extended family was more than accommodating. When we suspected she might be getting sleepy, we turned down lights, talked quietly and generally stopped all activity. Have you ever seen 17 people carry on Christmas festivities in near-total silence? It’s amazing.
“Are there any more little pieces?”
I suspect there’s a seldom-recognized rule of manufacturing that requires all goods be packaged with at least a dozen tiny objects. Even baby toys are packaged with wire wrappers and breakable plastic pieces. Each time we opened a new gift, we had to feel around on the carpet to make sure we got all the loose pieces. It looked like we were trying to read a very specific version of braille.
“Aww, do you see what she’s doing?”
This is probably the one I asked the most. I love seeing my daughter interacting with the world around her, and Christmas brought with it a bunch of really fun new things for her try. She had fun pulling the tissue paper out of gift bags, ripping wrapping paper, and basically everything else we take for granted. Everything was new and special, and with each new thing, her face would light up. See, when she’s that cute, I couldn’t help myself. I had to ask everyone if they’re seeing her – even though everyone was already watching. Repetitive and rhetorical questioning is one of my rights as a parent. I learned that from my own parents.
“When can I go back to work?”
This holiday season, I had the longest stretch of time at home that I’ve had in 10 years. These past few weeks, I’ve seen firsthand what my wife goes through every day as a stay-at-home mom. It’s insanely exhausting. There’s so much to juggle when you’re at home all day with the baby. Even simple tasks require coordination and good timing. One day, I was home alone with the baby and had to go to the bathroom. Here’s my question to parents who stay at home: How do you go to the bathroom? Do I put her in a play pen? Do I bring her in with me? There’s something not right about holding my daughter with one arm while I’m aiming with the other. Or I could sit down, I suppose, but then there’s something not right about holding her in my lap. Seriously, how does it get done? I ended up crossing my legs, holding it until my wife got back home.
And that’s the way it is with every single thing. If you want to take the trash out, you have to make arrangements for the baby. If you want to check your email, you have to make arrangements for the baby. There’s no closing your eyes for a minute or heading downstairs without constant attention on the baby. You have to be on your guard every single minute. As I said, I’m exhausted – and that’s with my wife still there with me! I hate to say it out loud, but I’m actually excited to go back to work.
I might finally get some rest.