My daughter got her first bill today. $25, a cancellation fee for blowing off an appointment with a Dr. Papoolian. A woman who, the first time we saw her, decried our child for not being up to all her milestones. She should be pulling herself up on the bars of her crib. She should be singing. She should be crawling. She should be doing Suduku.
That was eight weeks ago. By now she’s climbing. And singing—or maybe, more accurately, scatting, since she doesn’t actually know any words yet besides Dada, Ha-Mmm, and something that sounds suspiciously like ‘dork,’ which she only busts out when she’s staring at me and pointing. (How could she know?) What she doesn’t do is crawl. At least, not forward. Mysteriously, she can—when flat on her back, and possessed of the urge—do a kind of dry-land backstroke, kicking her little sausage-rockets and launching herself in the opposite direction of where she actually wants to go. It shows on her face—the alternate consternation at going the wrong the way, and the sheer delight of going anywhere.
But still—baby’s first bill! Today you are an American! I tell her. You owe money. If you don’t pay it, they’ll send more bills. If you don’t pay it for long enough, they’ll actually come after you. And, I admit, I was looking forward to the moment when we get a call, pick it up and it’s the collection agency demanding to know if Nico can come to the phone. Maybe they’ll send somebody around to repo her Jumperoo.
It’s all got me stirred up. Sleepless. Which works out well, since tonight my child is sleepless, I actually have an excuse for sitting in the dark and staring at the TV at three-forty-blow-my-brains-out in the morning. And—I can’t lie—I’m back to binging on Healthy Time Vanilla Teething biscuits. And again, I feel sort of Sylvia Plathy, without the whole head-in-the-oven thing. I mean, I’m not really depressed, I’m just Daddy-zombied. And Daddy doesn’t have it half as bad as Mommy, who, lately, must endure hours with a baby lodged on chest, jaw locked on her nipple like a bear trap with butt-dimples. Now that our tiny clamper has sprouted teeth, the situation has moved from mild discomfort to flat-out flesh pain. I sometimes wake in the night to see El starting straight ahead in the dark—the whites of her eyes slightly harrowing—Nico snoring and sleep-chomping atop her.
When Sweet Pea does cease nip-nibbling, it’s generally to revolve on her axis, so she can kick one of us in the face. It’s Nature Channely, the means by which our twenty-pounder finds the exact position for maximal Mom and Dad face-kicking. (Shout out to Claude Bessy, AKA Kickboy Face, late founder of Slash Magazine and Catholic Discipline.) Was this repetitive foot-in-teeth maneuver, like the stock video of Mama and Baby cheetah tussling on all the Big Cat shows, preparation for real-life survival face-kicking down the road? Or is it simply that our offspring hates the fact that we have all our teeth, and she doesn’t, so she’d really like to heel-smack some of ours out?
Now it’s nearly four, and we’re watching a Sesame Street rerun, so the poignancy of the moment is charged by retro-knowledge of Elmo’s dismissal due to underage sex charges. Too bad he didn’t work for the Pope, or he could have kept his job and just been transferred to another kid’s show.
The night was interesting before this. We took Nico on a baby date. Tots love other tots. And the tot Nico loves right now is a year-and-changer with a biblical name and Evil Kneivel tendencies. Cool kid. I’m crazy about the little guy. And when, in the middle of the meal, I watched him crawl randomly across the floor of a Mexican restaurant, with the fearlessness of a blind man on PCP, I thought I saw my daughter’s eyes widen, unbridled fascination spread her lips in a vivid smile. I think the technical term is smitten. “That’s how it is,” El says, stabbing a ball of guacamole with a corn chip, then crunching it, “little girls like bad little boys.”
I’d never seen a grown stunt-man take as many face-plants as Nico’s baby boyfriend. It was impressive. Despite my trepidation that she’d follow in his—well, not footsteps, since neither of them walk; belly-grime, maybe—I had to admit, it was impressive. And I was wondering at what point my little girl would take an itch to make her bones by bellying her way across a four-lane freeway at rush hour.
Perv jacket or not, I found it soothing to just listen to Elmo—in character—and not worry about the future, the big dangerous world and the smooth-tongued one-year-olds out to lure my pride and joy into potentially fatal restaurant floor-crawls.
It will happen, soon enough. For now, give me Sesame Street and teething biscuits. Wild times. We’ll pay the bills later.
When good babies go bad.
It happens to all of us. Eventually.