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Saturday, February 20, 2010

Fatherhood at 8 Months, 2 weeks and 2 days.

A couple of weeks ago I went to the home of some friends of ours. They have two kids with a 3 year head start on our young family. The smaller is just over a year old and every time I go round she hops up on her little trunks and waddles across the floor in a mammoth effort to make it to my legs and then tries to launch herself upward by tugging on my knee caps. They’re really cool kids. The three year old boy is already first in line to be my daughter’s husband (so far as I’m concerned) and every time I see him I make a point of asking him, “Are you going to marry H when you grow up?” He nods his head yes but sometimes gets confused and tells me who else he plans to marry. Actually he sometimes even tries to claim my wife as already being his! But it’s still early days and the brain washing process that I’ve started may take a few years, but at least the seed has been sown. He certainly enjoys kissing her good-bye at the end of each visit (In a perfectly innocent Anne Geddes sense).

Having friends with kids is helpful because I can gauge my fledgling’s progress against theirs. A great example is one little girl who had a nice crusty layer of boogers moustaching the area between her nostrils and upper lip. You see it on a great many kids; at some point the parent’s click that wiping it off would be a waste of natural resources because it’s just going to keep gushing back, one minute a gooey sort of booger-fall, the next a crackly dry wasteland of snot. I asked her mother, “So when can I expect H to have snot on her face all the time?” because up until this point she had been relatively snot-face free.
“Within a few weeks of starting day care.” Was the unwelcome response.

And so it begins. The relentless crawl up the immunity ladder as my child builds her immune system from scratch. For the most part, as long as she is taking breast milk she is largely protected from all manner of nasty’s that mommy is already immune to. So for the first 8 months of her life we thought we had a super baby who practically never got sick. I almost sort of looked down my non-runny nose at other kids who always had something trying to escape their nostrils or stomachs, whether they be coughs, sniffles or abundant mucus. Of course she threw up her milk after most feeds and had the odd blocked nose that required the torturous effort of an aspirator to remove the blockage but as far as actually being sick went, complete with a high temperature and the obvious struggle of a baby who can’t breath and who can’t understand why; that had only happened once when she was about 4 months old…

Flash back. Middle of winter. One day perfectly healthy baby. Next day you can hear the bubbling of breathing through a drippy nose. Babies take a while to learn how to breath through their mouths consistently so keep trying to take in oxygen through the tiny holes above their lips. Frequent waking throughout the night when the tiny snore stops because no air can get through. Eating is a chore because they can’t breath, yet babies seem to eat for comfort so the cycle begins of trying to feed for relief and becoming irritated when there is no relief. As a parent you can sympathize with their helplessness because you yourself are helpless, there is no way of communicating to them that it’s just a cold. There’s no way of listening to their frightened little thoughts, they are having a grizzly crash course in learning how to be sick. The first time they discover a fraction of how cruel the world can be, not just because they’re not feeling very nice but because in many ways, despite the round-the-clock attentiveness of the anxious parents, psychologically they are doing it on their own...

The least exciting part of the whole ordeal is the Aspirator. A little rubber bulb like thing with a plastic nozzle on the end. It looks like a portable icing decorator only this handles nothing sweet, and certainly not anything you would rush to put onto a cake. I remember the many times, just to give my baby a chance to breath, sticking it up her struggling nose to suck the insides out while she screamed and writhed in genuine terror at the monster that daddy has become. I felt torn between the guilt of distressing her so or the guilt of not doing anything. You can try to tell them it’s for their own good but they have no idea what “their own good” even means. All they know is you’re sticking something cold and plastic up their sick nose and the arms that they’re so used to receiving cuddles from have suddenly become firm restrainers, frightening shackles in a prison of fear, wailing with an already raw throat…

Fast forward. After that mid winter dreadfulness super baby returned and I was able to put the memory of that ordeal in a coffin of concrete and drown in the deeper regions of my unconscious and with it the memory of putting my mouth over her blocked nose to suck the stuborn salty snottiness out myself when the aspirator failed to do the job I had paid for it to do.

But then comes Day Care.

On the outside Day Care looks like a friendly place filled with badly drawn but none the less colorful finger paintings, lovely ladies with smiles that glitter like the rainbow and a house sized toy box. But really it’s an incubator of a myriad of bacteria, the airport where virus’ congregate to say farewell to their loved ones before they disembark on a journey on board the next 8 month old they can hitch a ride on.

Of course its all completely necessary. This is how they’re little bodies adapt to the harsh microscopic world around them. Putting this thing in their mouth, trying out that virus, getting immune to it, putting that thing in their mouth, catching a tummy bug, building up a resistance... Unfortunately they bring it home with them and its usually something Mommy and Daddy aren’t immune to because the circles we frequent don’t include 12 kids all wanting to stick the same thing in their mouth or in their ear and then pick your nose with the same grubby little fingers that prodded the kid who had the interesting booger or the strange substance that came out of the other kids mouth and landed on your plate and you just had to try some for your self. Goodness know s what goes on in that place.

Nearly 3 years ago my Nephew came home from a Day Care with a tummy bug. Within hours I found out firsthand what it was like to throw up the previous nights steak dinner – through your nose. I couldn’t enjoy a barbecue for nearly a year after that experience.

So last week my offspring chokes in the middle of the night. My wife and I leap out of our bed, no time for me to whip on my Jammie's. Here’s naked delirious Dad launching himself to the cot to clutch the choking baby out of her slumber and potential death (melodramatic I know, but wait until you try it). By the time my wife turns the light on here I am with my floppy child upside down between my hands. Somehow she has managed to do a 180 degree turn in her sleep and groggily wakes up to an upside down bedroom swinging from side to side. Obviously she isn’t dead, but my heart is racing and my nerves are wrecked as I plonk her on our bed to check her mouth for obstructions. We assume that the blanket must have attacked her in her sleep so banish it from her cot. For the next 3 nights her bed becomes a blanket free zone. All blankets are naughty and have to endure time out.

Except it wasn’t a blanket that tried to strangle my baby, no it was the latest Day Care gremlin trying to force her to gargle vomit in her sleep. We discovered this the next morning when she let go of her morning meal on parts of my wife that shouldn’t have to endure stomach acids!

Mom went to work and I was left with a floppy lethargic baby who still had the will power to wrestle with a pink giraffe, roar like a lion cub and finally throw herself against her daddy only to hurl warm chunks down the back of his shoulder. After mopping her up with a warm flannelet I let her flop into a sleepy heap on our bed and while I surveyed the damage to our bed spread I realized that having your child churn out the contents of her belly all over my back is no where near as bad as seeing her weak little body heaving and dry wrenching like she was a teenager at a party she wasn’t allowed to go to....

To be continued...

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