Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Life's First Wonderful Gift

Anyone who's raised a child knows that after those first weeks of infancy, a magical thing happens: Your child discovers the gift of joy.

There is nothing quite so spirit-filling as seeing your baby's glowing face smile at your expanding attempts to entertain him or her. And let me tell ya, my spirit's been getting its fill these past couple of weeks as Max responds with growing enthusiasm to our raspberries, kisses, and increasingly aggressive manipulations of his little body. We've moved on to the stage of arm-waving, torso-tickling, and up-and-down bouncing.

All of which is making mornings quite the happy little scene in our bedroom. After Max nurses, Sarah and I spend what seems like an eternity lying in bed, propping max on our bellies and watching him laugh and smile and yelp with glee as we run through a combination of tried-and-true happiness inducers and new attempts to push his joy to new levels. Like this week, I introduced turning him upside down and gently flipping him. He's not sure he likes it, but he hasn't complained, so I have no intention of pulling back.

One thing that's making me highly focused on fully enjoying this ritual each day is the fact that when Sarah asks me if I remember this or that from Jackson's first months, my answer is almost always no. The memories are fleeting, having been overtaken by years of school and soccer and neighborhood play and trauma and life changes and pre-adolescence. I do, however, still have total recall of lines from 70s movies, so I'm not sure why my child's development is a fading memory. The subtleties of the human brain aren't exactly my area of expertise.

What I do know is that my surviving memories of Jackson as a baby are a lot more uniformly positive than the memories I'll have of him as a pre-teen. Living with a pre-teen is like having a roommate--one who doesn't pay for anything, leaves lots of messes, and likes to insult me as many times as possible each day.

Eventually, the same will probably be true of Max, so for the time being, I'll just keep soaking up his joyful embracing of the world and try not to think about the snotty little roommate he'll eventually turn into. There will be plenty of time for that nonsense.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Deja Vu All Over Again

With Sarah just 9 days from returning to work as an operating room nurse at UCSF Medical Center, I find myself facing my second go-round as a sometimes solo stay-at-home, self-employed dad. Starting April 5, I'll have 3 days a week holding down the fort myself, and in a way, I'm kinda looking forward to it.

Not that I want Sarah back at work--although the re-appearance of her income will be very welcome. But let's face it, dads are second class citizens at this stage so long as moms are around. When mom's not in the room, though, it's a different story. Suddenly, dad's antics are the focus of baby's attention. In other words, with no udders to distract Max, I figure he and I will bond as never before.

Sarah, conversely, is most definitely not looking forward to her return to the O.R. She and Max have been pretty much inseparable these first 3 months, and it will be no easy task for her to suddenly be away from him for 10-hour stretches (including commute times). I anticipate getting multiple calls each shift those first several weeks, as mom worries whether her baby is safe with dad.

A reasonable worry, as it turns out, as I've had two little accidents that have inflicted pain upon Max. The first was at a birthday party for a set of two-year-old twins, when I managed to scrape the top of Max's head against the door frame while walking out of the kitchen. After a stunned two seconds, Max let out a blood-curdling scream that made me the story of the party. Sarah was NOT a happy camper, but in my own defense, it really was just a mild scrape.

Then, a day or two ago while I was re-dressing Max after a diaper change, I somehow managed to close a snap on his shirt and catch a small piece of skin on his back, causing him to let loose with an even MORE blood-curdling scream. I did my best to soothe him, but let's face it--the damage was done. Now I'll know what's going on 20 years from now when he breaks into a sob whenever he hears me snap my pants.

So, as Sarah's return to work--and subsequent panic over letting the baby out of her sight--approaches, my strategy is to acknowledge that yes, I'm like most dads. There will be accidents--a scrape here, a cut there, a bruise every now and then--but I'll keep the damage to small stuff. I've been parenting and step-parenting for 18 years now, and no one's ever been seriously hurt or emotionally scarred on my watch. I'm sure that's gotta qualify me for some kind of fatherhood lifetime achievement award, no?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

For Good or Bad, I've Only Got One Heart

Soon after Max was born, Sarah and I posted photos to our Facebook pages, and when we got to the part where you write captions, Sarah wrote something so beautiful it stunned me: "My heart that beats outside my body." With those seven words, Sarah punched me with a reality I can't begin to understand.

Oh, don't get me wrong, I can understand the extreme tie we have with our children that causes us to feel their pain, revel in their happiness, and innately know what buttons to push. (That is, until they're about 9 or 10--after that, best of luck.) What I'll never be able to comprehend is the physical and emotional cabling that exists between mother and baby.

I didn't notice this as much the first time, mostly because I was so ga-ga myself and Jackson was his mom's third child. But watching Sarah discover motherhood has been truly fascinating, as has witnessing the bond between mother and baby form. The two of them hinge on everything the other does. When Sarah walks through the room, Max's attention is immediately averted, and it almost seems like he casts a fetching look upon her bosoms. As soon as hunger strikes, anyone who doesn't possess one of those bosoms becomes immediately irrelevant.

Likewise, Sarah's every thought revolves around Max. When she walks in the door, whereas her greeting used to be, seriously, "Hello, my love," now it's "How's my baby?" And she ain't talking about me. In the middle of the night, Sarah can sleep right through my coming in to the bedroom from a late-night work stint, showering in our adjacent bathroom, brushing my teeth, opening and closing drawers, climbing into bed, forcefully fluffing my pillows and, ultimately, cuddling up to her. But a half-hour later, if Max lets out so much as a whimper from the next room, Sarah's boobs start oozing a puddle in the bed and she asks me to go get him.

And I haven't even gotten to my efforts at lovemaking being met not just by the prerequisite post-birth sexual malaise, but also by a torrent of breast milk squirting all over me. But I digress.

The point is--what was the point? Oh, yes, that thing about Max being Sarah's heart beating outside her body. It's a description only a mother could grasp, and is probably at the root of about 93% of later marital conflict.

"You always babied him."
"At least I HAVE a relationship with him."
"Well, he and I would be closer if you hadn't always been smothering him."
"I just wanted to make sure he didn't turn out to be an asshole like you."

I digress any case, that oneness--the beating heart and all--will evolve into a constant state of fretting and worrying that will dwarf anything that I, as a dad, will ever feel. So today I consider myself both lucky and unlucky. Lucky in that I don't have to endure the emotional roller coaster of motherhood, and unlucky in that I don't get to.