So I’m standing in front of the fridge, door open, wondering more-or-less what happened to my life, when I suddenly remember I have an eight month old baby in my arms. I close the door before her face freezes, already picturing the visit from Social Services, me trying to explain why the tip of my daughter’s nose is missing – frostbite! – and how one ill-fated fridge loiter does not necessarily make me a bad parent. “I wasn’t hungry, I just wanted something, and I didn’t know what it was… ” I could but won’t go onto how, when I was a child, my own mother, a smart woman partial to long stretches in bed with the curtains closed, would sometimes shout at the ceiling, I want something and I don’t know what it is…
(Are the voices in our heads congenital? And why does mine sound like Eartha Kitt? So many questions!)
Do you ever just open the refrigerator door and stare? Does that count as meditation?
If I were to keep a fatherhood journal (which I don’t, I’m less organized than amoebae), I’d title it Close Calls. I mean, for fuck’s sake, when it’s actually in your arms, how can you forget you have a child? (Full disclosure: when I originally wrote this, I typed, how can you forget you are a child. Jesus. In Typo Veritas.)
Anyway, two nights ago, my girlfriend E and I are sitting there like normal Americans, watching some riveting swill on TV, our newly-tankish little post-half year old propped on the couch between us. And yea, thanks for asking, we were watching “I’d Kill For A Baby” on Discovery Health. (Why an hour of insane ladies stalking and slashing late-term mothers-to-be or snatching newborns out of Walmart Parking lots qualifies as “Health” is a question I’ll leave for the Discovery Execs. They’re the professionals. It’s like a diet network that shows people killing deli workers, binging on pastrami and dying. But what do I know?) After pretending to be pregnant to family and co-workers, we’re told, and after making home videos of themselves unwrapping baby shower presents, these desperate wanna-Moms will stop at nothing to lose the pillows strapped to their guts and get their bloody mitts on an actual infant. Which was not what got me so het up I scared my own child into primal, wailing panic when I banged a fist off the coffee table and nearly doused her with tomato soup. (Miraculously – and happily – it splashed on either side of her, creating the jarring spectacle of a tiny child sitting on a throne of blood, like a Kurosawa warlord.)
No, what made me lose my shit was that AT&T commercial, maybe you’ve seen it, where some smarmy douche asks a bunch of children whether “bigger is better.” A cute little girl spouts some blather that concludes with her saying how she wouldn’t want to have a small tree house, and the smarmy guy turns to the little sweetheart and says, “that’s a pain in the buns.”
“Bigger is better?” “Pain in the buns?” In a conversation with schoolchildren? Is it me?
In what pedophilic funhouse was this splash of corporate splooge squeezed out? Absolutely fucking disgusting, on nine different levels. I imagine some wax-lipped descendent of an actual Mad Man snirkling to himself as he sneaks this one past the client. Until it occurs to me, maybe it wasn’t the client. Maybe it was AT&T, itself, who asked for the Short Eyes slant. No doubt to appeal to all the crusty old sex tourists who spend big money on Cambodian child rape vacations. I saw in another doc, on NGC, that Phnom Penh was a prime chickenhawk destination. (And hasn’t it been great to see National Geographic abandon its musty, pith helmet legacy for the tabloidy heights of Taboo – this week, Prison Love! – Doomsday Preppers, Family Guns, and late night infomercials for Mohatma Gandhi Leg-waxers? He was a man of peace – and his calves were smooth!) What a swell market for a fine corporation like AT&T to cash in on. Every time Grandpa Kiddie-Diddler calls home to let the folks back in Beaver Falls know how much he’s enjoying his golden years, it’s a nice ka-ching for shareholders. Jean Genet must be beating off in his grave.)
Over-reacting to this perv-fest, I bang my hand on the table, and the aforementioned non-hot low sodium Earth Garden organic boxed tomato splashes around – but not, as mentioned – actually on our innocent child. A close call (see first paragraph), but what can I say? Being strung out on heroin is donuts with the pope compared to being strung on baby. They’re both 24-7, alternately euphoric and terrifying commitments. Though late-life Dadhood, I would argue (if anybody wanted to argue) takes significantly more balls. (Or idiocy, depending on how you look at it.)
Admittedly, Junkie versus Dad (as opposed to Junkie Dad, which is a whole other story, but I already wrote that one) presents a less-than-PTA-esque apposition. But fuck the PTA. If I’d made my bones as a devil-may-care female impersonator in Taliban-held Marja, I’d zone back to those halcyon days performing my Afghani Liza – have you ever heard New York, New York in Pashto? – and dodging homophobic knife-in-the-teeth zealots. But smackheadism is what I know. Besides which, who needs to compare or contrast?
Now that Tiny N has reached the put-everything-in-her-mouth stage, life’s become even more of a non-stop potential Poison Control party. At some point you just give up worrying about that green plastic hippo she picked off the bus seat and jammed in her piehole while you were fishing in a diaper bag for a teething biscuit. (A sentence, I’m not going to lie, I could not have conceived of writing five years ago.) It’s not like I can yank the biscuit from her toothless maw and spray Bactine on her gums. To her eternal credit, the difficult-to-ruffle E routinely talks me back from foaming, germaphobic paranoia to something like a reasonably cautionary posture. Meaning, essentially, that instead of freaking out when our Pompadoured 18 pounder puts the dog’s paw in her mouth, I simply remove it. And try not to obsess on what fecal smorgasbord the adorable, poop-sniffing Basenji has pranced through.
To paraphrase that old hippie chestnut, sometimes the bear eats you, sometimes your baby tries to eat the bear.
In truth, now that my fear-free little girl greets the world with mouth open, ready to lick, gum or swallow anything in sight, I have this recurring image: legions of yawping, grasping infants, tummying their way from shore to shore, shoving everything – rocks, bum-shoes, Audis, Jehovah’s Witnesses and possibly their own parents into their mouths, in some Lilliputian takeover of the world of us shady adults. And, for reasons I myself can’t fathom, I find the notion vaguely reassuring.
Of course, I’m writing this at hell-fifteen in the morning, scribbling in the dark after Nico has yowled herself awake. I watch my blue-eyed wailer alternately shlucking her mother’s ravaged nipple and raising her still-soft head to peer my way and smile. Making sure, no doubt, to let me know whose fucking world it really is.
NEXT TIME: Adventures in Public Screaming… Happiness is a Warm Diaper… Creepy Parents
Rumpus original art by Jason Novak.