You receive a small package; a tender baby. It is placed neatly in your arms for the first time and you cradle it, snuggle it, kiss it. You ever-so-gently place it in its crib and you fawn over it. You rub your hand down the side of its cheek. You beep its little nose. You tickle its feet. You drop it on the floor on accident and you can’t believe what you’ve just done! Are the windows closed? Did anyone FREAKING SEE THAT?! Okay, no…. I think we’re okay…. no one needs to know… and if they ask about the wounds we can lie about the details later. QUICK! Make up a story!
He fell down! No, idiot! That’s what you’re trying to get away from! The dog stepped on her! No! Almost worse! You left the kid where your dog runs? Screw it! The baby gets put in long sleeves until the scabs fall off.
Birth may make you a parent, but dropping a child is the true initiation for both you understanding that you’re not a perfect parent and for the child being truly welcomed into this world made of sharp objects and hard surfaces. SO, without any further adieu, here are three stories, in escalating order, about my children being dropped.
I sleep very strangely. I don’t mean the physical way my body lies, I just mean the way my brain behaves. I’m the guy that will awake in the middle of the night and begin a conversation with my wife about guns and security cameras. My sentence structure will be all broken and fileted, but I’ll be really passionate about my points.
ME: “You know our security cameras?” JADE: “HUH?” ME: “Our security cameras… on the walls…” “JADE, “WHAT?” ME: “Our freaking security cameras… on the walls… with the guns on them!” JADE: “Are you sleeping?” ME: “SHUT UP!”
Another instance: I wake up and put my fist straight up in the air, towards the ceiling. I open my hand and point my palm back down at Jade. Basically it looks like I’m trying to perform voodoo on her. She wakes up and sees me doing this and says, “John?” ME: “What?” JADE: “Why are you doing that with your hand?” ME: “SHUT UP!”
In any event, I’ll awake in the middle of the night to change a diaper and my mind will be somewhere else completely. I’m saying, it’s over in Willy Wonka Land or Narnia or Iran. It is just off the beaten path and I am standing up and walking around and functioning (to some degree) but my exact sobriety is and should be definitely called into question.
So, Quinn is around six months old and she wakes up in the middle of the night and, as parents do, I wake up and I lift her out of the crib and I place her on the “changing table” – which basically just amounts to a waist high dresser with a changing pad on it – and I smile at her and poke her nose and tickle her feet and do all those things that gentle parents do and then I turn to grab a diaper and just, just, just out of the corner of my eye I see her role over and then everything slips into the slowest of motions.
First, I suddenly remember that she has begun rolling over as of late. Check. Second, I realize that she’s fallen off the table and is tumbling through the air, plummeting towards the hard wooden floors. My arm lashes out instinctively and (thank God) my fingers just snake into the fabric of her pajamas and I catch her about 12 inches from the floor, my eyes still pointing the wrong direction. It is a scene directly out of an action movie wherein the hero catches a high impact bomb at the last possible second.
She didn’t hit the floor so I don’t know if that counts in regards to my theory but trust me when I say that it was enough to fully wake me up and send my heart rocketing into my throat.
This second instance happened several months after the above scenario; I remember because we were back in South Dakota for a hot summer and my family was out for a walk while I wore Rory in one of these front facing “Child Backpacks”. You’ve seen them, no doubt. Anyway, I know it was later in time because Rory was tall enough to keep kicking me in the dick with the heel of his shoes with every step I took. Mark my words, the person who invents the fashionable male cod-piece accessory for those is going to be a very rich person.
As we walked and talked, the sun beat down on us making me slip on my uber-hip, over-sized aviator sunglasses that, I guess did sort of obscure my vision, on top of the fact that I had a GIANT TODDLER HEAD BLOCKING MY VIEW….. so, obviously, I didn’t see the enormous rock that had been set in my path.
Let me just pause for a minute to say that falling down is the worst. First of all, it’s embarrassing. Even simply slipping in public is bad. You’ll be walking and your toe will catch on a sidewalk lip or you’ll step off the curb funny or you’ll dip down into a pot hole in the cross walk on the corner of third and Santa Monica while you’re trying to act cool and then you’re just lying in the street and you wish you could just die please kill me.
But… falling with a 30lb cinder block attached to your chest is even more frightening. First of all, I couldn’t see anything so I was just spiraling into a fluff of albino hair oblivion. Second of all, you know the kid is fragile and, since he’s strapped to my chest, he’s bound to take the brunt of the fall. I mean, I am going to crush this kid between myself and those really jagged pink rocks that they put on streets (I was walking in the street – I’m from a small town so it’s okay).
Again, slow motion. Let me break it down…
First, my foot steps onto a large rock and twists to the side so I come down on my ankle. I say the F-word. Let’s just get that out of the way now. Yes, it sounded just like the kid from A Christmas Story. I try to shove my other foot out in front of me but the angle of my body makes it impossible and instead I just look like a flailing lamb caught in a fence.
I realized I was about to crush Rory so, again, those weird parenting instincts that you have just take over and I wrapped my arms around him in a protective cocoon and twisted my entire body to the side, coming down and landing hard on my elbow (again, on those horribly sharp pink rocks).
Again, I said the F-word.
Rory was fine. My elbow, not so much.
Now, according to my theory, this too is not a story about a child hitting the ground but it’s getting significantly closer. Listen, getting hurt is just a game of numbers… and the more kids you have and the more time you spend with them, the more likely it is to happen… which is a perfect segue to our final story…
Having three kids of varying age spans is a very interesting dynamic because you can’t – you simply can’t – play with all three of them at once. Rory and Quinn want to wrestle and jump in the leaves and ride their bikes and play in the fort and be chased and sword fight and build towers and destroy towers and Bryce wants to be held, burped and fed.
Now, it’s true that I can hold Bryce and feed Bryce and burp Bryce while I do some of the above things but I can’t truly engage with the older children while handling a baby. It’s just a factual matter of splitting your resources. So, what this typically looks like is, “Let’s take care of the baby’s needs (food, comfort, sleep) and then when the baby is sleeping, let’s give full reign to the older ones and everyone wins.”
Makes sense. System works. Great. Wonderful.
A week ago Jade leaves the house to do some thrift store whoring and takes Quinn with her – we like to split the Twinkies up whenever possible just to give them that a taste of solitude – which leaves me on Rory and Bryce duty. Easy. First, the bottle; take it out of the fridge, put it in the bottle heater, get it way too hot, burn my fingers, get pissed off at the archaic steam technology, cool the bottle down, dump breast milk on my wrist and all over my forearm, feed baby, burp baby, get breast milk burp-up all over my forearm, bounce baby into dairy induced coma, lie baby on the center of our bed, walk away.
This is routine. This is everyday, several times a day. This works. I have no reason to question this method. It’s tried and tested. I pat her butt until she’s asleep – pat pat pat – and then I sneak out of the room, go outside and play with Rory in the backyard. We run, we chase, we sword fight, we slide, we laugh, we play, he shows me a lady bug and tells me that it’s naughty to pee in the grass. I concur with him.
In the driveway, around the side of the house, I hear the familiar hum of our mini-van’s engine, followed by the beep-beep of the door being locked; Jade is home. I sit down in a lawn chair and wait for her to make her way outside and, when she finally does, she’s carrying Bryce.
Stranger yet is the first question she asks me.
“Why did you put Bryce to sleep on the floor?”
I’ll cut to the chase because you, like me, are probably already going, “WHAT?!” Yeah. King sized bed. Two and a half feet off the ground. Wooden floor. Baby doesn’t crawl. DOESN’T CRAWL. Baby was sleeping in the center of the bed ten minutes ago and somehow managed to push herself to the edge of the bed and…
Jade says, “I came in the front door and heard Bryce sort of… I don’t know… it wasn’t really whining so much as it was… whimpering.” I’m a monster. “I went into the bedroom and called your name but didn’t see you but could still hear Bryce,” Monster, Monster, Monster. “I walked over to the side of the bed – the far side – and she was just lying on the ground. Why’d you put her to sleep on the ground?” MORBID VILE MONSTER!
“I, uh,” I stammer before standing up and slowly taking the baby from my wife’s arms, examining her. Jade says, “Why are you looking at her…. oh, no…” and I say, “She was in the middle of the bed!” and Jade says, “I win! I didn’t drop her first! Victory to me!” and then she begins playing a fake trumpet and throwing dried leaves into the air.
Bryce is fine.
Her initiation is complete.
She is officially human.