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OG DAD #12: Inherit the Wind

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A baby is like a Rorschach. An occasionally adorable, periodically screamy blob onto which we project our own fears, delights and inner damage.

Or something.

All I know is that last week, for one day, L’il N refused to smile. Period. She wasn’t having it. I’d been away for a couple of weeks, and upon my return, expecting the usual cooey, life-affirming, pre-lingual love-fest – I mean, why else have a baby? – I got instead the steady, appraising gaze of a bank manager poised to reject my loan application. “And you, sir, you expect me to trust you? Pray tell why?”  Chilling.

E, of course, being a smart (which is to say not-as-brain-dented-as-me) mother, was more sanguine about our toddler’s Sudden Onset Gravitas. “Maybe she doesn’t feel like smiling. Do you feel like smiling all the time? You think she’s, like, a little ‘Make Life Fun For Daddy’ machine? Is that the deal?”

Tou-fucking-ché! Defending a child from genetic paranoia can make any parent testy.

I am mortified. Now that my own behavior is reflected back at me – the true joy of coupledom – I am forced to look at it. Jesus! How could anyone be so solipsistic? So selfish? Somehow, I have managed to let niggling insecurity morph in to unregenerate out-of-control douche-nozzledom.

“You’re right,” I say,  “you’re absolutely right!”

And then, three seconds after that, “So, seriously, you think she doesn’t like me or what?”

Had E picked up a fire extinguisher and given me a bagel head – hot new trend from Japan! – I would not have blamed her.

The rest of the evening, our child rocked, rode in her jungle-sounds electric swing, rolled in her stroller, woke up from mega-naps and glared at me during wet diaper changes sans mirth, delight, giggles or joy. It was like putting a Huggy on Alfred Hitchcock. Minus the theme music.

Another half day of non-smiling offspring later and I’m crouched by the pack’n’play, wondering if I have, you know, said something, maybe accidentally insulted young Binkelstein. Babies, any parent will tell you, hate it when you laugh around them. It makes them cry. Especially – and yes, I admit to having done it – if you’re laughing at them. They just know. Like say, when there’s a loud noise and my tiny daughter twitches and her eyes go wide as a silent movie actor. And I say, “Can you believe how much she looks like Fatty Arbuckle!” And she gets really, righteously indignant.

Forget that four months-out-of-the-womb humans do not generally understand English. (Plus which, unlike everyone else in America, they don’t yet have weight issues. Assuming her first words aren’t Does my ass look fat in this diaper?) Tiny N has a cloud in her eyes that seems to bespeak inner torment, perhaps even existential angst. To the extent that pre-crawlers are, you know, existential. Her lower lip’s outthrust, her chin crunched in; tears are welling up. If she knew how, she’d probably be stomping her foot. (Happily, I know from experience, the foot-stomping doesn’t start till three.)

And then, suddenly, at the height of my baby’s agita, comes an effect straight from vintage Robert Crumb. Rank onomatopoeia. A seat-fluttering BLAP! A fart so loud the bassinet shakes. Books rattle off the shelves and our basenji, Alvin, exchanges a nervous glance with our goldfish, Marv, who flaps his one fin frantically around his bowl. After which, even louder, from south of her diaper-top, comes BLAPPEDDA-BLAP, GURGLE-GURGLE, BLAP-BLAP-FERBLE-GOOOOSH-SH-SH!

My 13 pound squiggler breaks wind worthy of a 300 pound, borscht-fed Ukrainian steamfitter. I know this because my Great Uncle Boiny actually was a 300 pound Ukrainian steam-fitter. His mother – with whom Uncle Boin-Boin lived until he keeled over from a coronary at 56 – never met a meal that couldn’t be made better with boiled cabbage. Including breakfast. The result was a digestive tract, in Boiny’s case, that can only be described as NASCAR-esque.

Apparently, high-decibel flatulence, like left-handedness and Brillo hair, can skip a few generations. But when it returns, it returns big.

Cue “Here Comes The Sun.”

After her baritone sax solo, my little honker smiles with such giggly delight I can’t help but pick her up and do a few Hopak dance steps. (When he got drunk, Uncle Boiny swore he was a Cossack, and the Hopak is the dance Cossacks do when they dance. That thing where guys squat with their arms crossed and kick their legs in and out. Google Yul Brenner. He also liked to climb to the top of his apartment building and get more drunk, guzzling vodka one-handed while swaying on the lip of the roof, reciting verses by Osip Mandelstam. “I am wearied to death with life/There’s nothing it has that I want…”)

O Osip! I can still hear him!

Mine are a moody, despairing people, pain-stamped by Stalin and Hitler. And most of my female relatives have Moe Howard’s nose. My girlfriend’s tribe hails from Finnish iron miners. (Though oddly, even the men are pretty.) I imagine them all, at a wedding party, facing the wall and weeping.

But never mind.

Right now I’m leaning down close to my little girl, on her third-of-a-year birthday, trying to kiss her on her gravity-defying, Wendy O. Williams mohawk, and I’m happy to say she’s laughing in my face.

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NEXT: Does visible earwax in a pediatrician imply anything about his pediatric skills?… Hello solid food!… Extreme post-natal sex tapes!

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Rumpus original art by Jason Novak.


Jerry Stahl has written 8 books, including Permanent Midnight, Bad Sex On Speed, and I, Fatty. His new novel, Happy Mutant Baby Pills, is now out from Harper Perennial. More from this author →