death crib

OG DAD #14: BACKOPALYPSE NOW

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Before what happened happened at Sandy Hook Elementary, I was going to write about back pain. Specifically “boomer back”—dark secret of infant–spawning post-50 boomerdom—a malady specific to “older parents” forced to bend forward, as if taking a bow, and lift their plump, late-life lollipops out of their cribs. In the last century, crib-makers designed their product so the sides of the thing simply folded down. Back before parenting got re-branded as a lifestyle choice (an affectation since replaced by beards), your basic Mom or Pop did not have to fold at the waist and hoist their little one over the top like some deus ex machina freeing a lifer from his cell in Sing-Sing. Back then the ‘rents could simply reach in, laterally, and snatch young Tyler or Jessica without bulging a disc and popping a spinal baby bump. In the world of Old Guy fatherhood, it’s not just Moms-to-be who get a happy bulge; it’s post-50 types with disc issues. (Forgive the digression, but why do babies end up behind bars, like tiny diapered convicts? What are they in for?)

Anyway, due to safety concerns—not, as I first assumed, over a few savvy tots learning to unlatch their cages, bounce onto the linoleum and make a crawl for it, but 150 tragic deaths by suffocation or strangulation—the CPRC (Consumer Products Safety Commission) 86ed side-cribs and opted for top loaders. After which as, my Bentley-driving Beverly Hills sciatica pro informed me, business got very very good for spine surgeons.

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Trust me, nothing makes you feel like a real man like having to ask your 110 pound girlfriend to pick up your toddler for you. But fuck that. A detail like the one above—150 dead babies, due to industry idiocy—rightly drowns out whatever little nugget of kvetchy skaghound bemusement I was going to bang out. Kicks it into grisly foreshadowing of the fact that, in these vicious times, it’s what seems safest in life—cribs! schools!—that most often morphs into murderous and unspeakable tragedy. America has its own weird progress: we’ve expanded our child-killers from factory-made to flesh-and-blood. (In industrial terms the faulty product in question, most recently, being a twenty year old still-at-homer who didn’t want his picture in the yearbook.)

The grim irony that a prepper Mom was preppered for everything but her own son is hard to ignore. In a dark moment, after a day of cable news re-caps, I found myself wondering what thought went through the gun-loving Mom’s head when, woken from sleep,  she saw the last thing she would ever see:  her own boy—another gun-lover!—pointing a Bushmaster at her. Surprise? Terror? Pride? To quote Alexander Pope, in Moral Essays (sometimes a guy just has to read a little Pope ): “Just as the twig is bent the tree’s inclined.” But let us pause, for a moment, to make a note of the name of the product in question. The Bushmaster. Would not, in the deeper recesses of his unconscious, a man with inadequacy issues feel a little buoyed by the notion of mastering bush? I’m not going to elaborate.

Okay, okay. If I’m scattered forgive me. Mass child-homicide will do that. Did I already mention that, after my backbone exam at Cedars Sinai, we had our first appointment with a new pediatrician on the other side of town? The Waiting room was divided into a SICK side and a WELL side. (The signs in black crayon, taped up and sagging.) Immediately—and wrongly—assuming the signs were referring to parents’ psycho-emotional health, I made for the unwell wing before E grabbed my arm and steered me in the right direction. WELL, happily, was crowded. Kids and mothers, kids and aunts, kids and grandmothers. Only one male beside me. A scowling Asian fellow in an elevator repairman jumpsuit mutters in the corner, tapping a Bic pen on the clipboard as he wrestles with the New Patient Form. “What am I —  trying to get a mortgage here?”

Two seconds after we meet our new doctor—think smirky Elizabeth Warren, with chunky white orthopedic shoes and forbidding cankles—she launches into a list of 7 month milestones, none of which our child has reached. Is she crawling? Does she climb the bars of her crib? How much Tummy Time does she do each do? By the time the pediatrician finishes her spiel—smirking, it feels to me, sadistically, I feel like I may be raising a tree stump, and wonder if I have to go all Great Santini on Bink’s under-one-year-old ass. “No need for concern,”  the pediatrician adds, after I think she’s done, “she should advance eventually.” It’s the eventually that makes me cringe. For a second, after the doctor’s damned us with our daughter’s lack of critical motor skills, I suddenly flash on Andrew Wyeth’s trademark painting Christina’s World, picturing Baby N, at twenty, dragging her dead legs behind her through the swaying grass, towards the family house on a hill.

Interrupting my brain dive, E snaps back at Dr. Dryenitchy, “She’s fine, okay? Every baby grows at their own pace.” Which merits a smug little lip curl as the critical MD reaches over the now screaming Baby N (who’s just had a flu shot, don’t get me started) and hands over a chart listing dates and “Developmental Event Markers. ” That’s when I realize why I instantly hated the woman. She reminds me of Miss Keebler,  the school librarian whose massive calves I had to massage in kindergarten after I accidently bonked them with a stack of Wonder Books I knocked off her desk. The second Cinderella smacked her shinbone she grabbed my face and told me to get down on my knees and rub her legs. Even then it seemed a little S&M’y. I can still remember how hot her stockings felt, under her rolled-up donuts, like I was handling two huge, musty Bratwursts. Fortunately the incident had no effect, and I grew up perfectly normal, with no kinks whatsoever.

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As we’re leaving—finally—the superior pediatrician barks that we need to put Bink on her stomach and make her stay there, even if she cries, for ten minutes at a time, with five minute breaks. We try this, when we get home. After ten seconds the baby’s whimpering. Around twenty she’s cranking the volume. Before a minute passes she is wailing as if, to my parentally warped ears, impaled on some laughing Nazi’s bayonet at Auschwitz.

Say what? For some reason, kinder-killing Nazis have been on my mind since word of the Newtown slaughter. We hear about it as we’re pulling out of the Despero Medical parking lot, across from a bar called Oinkies and a Winnebago outlet. An SS trademark was roaring into some little village, separating parents and kids, then famously tossing babies in the air and catching them on their bayonets before dispatching the victims’ older brothers and sisters in front of their horrified (there is no adjective that does the reality justice) parents. A million and a half children were murdered by the Germans. It was national policy. In the same way, as many pointed out after Connecticut, that it’s policy to create more dead children via drones in Pakistan, or rockets in Gaza, or to ignore dead children in Chicago. (Media prefer to focus, as Cornel West likes to say, on the “vanilla” victims.) And let’s not even get into industries that pour money into Congress to keep regulations lax on childhood-cancer-causing chemicals in food, or GMOS, or air ruining pollution, or, waiting in the wings, fracking, which pretty much seeds the American earth with human-destroying compounds. (Slower than a bullet but just as effective, killing-wise.)

But hey, enough happy talk. It’s Christmas. Or, by the time you’re reading this, post-Christmas, and that means time to think about the Son of God. Of course God, Himself, is the original OG Dad. If you believe the Bible, when He had Jesus, the Old Man was already older than time, having (allegedly) invented it. If He exists, I’m guessing that his back is killing Him. And that, if there’s CNN on high, He drinks Himself to sleep.

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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 →