My daughter and I went on our first solo father-daughter outing when she was three. Days, not years, and that’s actually rounding up. She had only come home from the hospital the night before.
It was a magical time for many reasons: meeting our new child, realizing we had made this precious life together, recognizing that we should have lived closer to one of our sets of parents. You know, the usual.
For example, I can clearly remember how much my wife and I began to miss the hospital’s around-the-clock nursing staff. They did their job so well that we naturally invited them to stay with us for the next seven to twelve years.
Oddly, they said no. I don’t think that they really appreciated how well my wife can cook. Or how clueless we were, which is probably more to the point.
It would be a bit like taking the training wheels off of a child’s bike after two days, and replacing them with contact explosives. (“Ok, kiddo, remember not to fall or people are going to die. Have fun!”) Or maybe it would be like letting doctors open their own practices after two days of medical school. (“You’ve read ‘What to Expect From Sick People,’ right?”)
They did walk us out to the parking lot however, which got our hopes up a bit. It turns out though that they were legally required to inspect our child seat and make sure it was installed correctly. Clearly the real danger was traffic, not entrusting a helpless baby to people who can’t even watch a movie without injuring themselves.
I’d like to say that we managed to make a go of it successfully, at least for a little while, but my wife got impressively sick almost as soon as we got home. Then there was the whole matter of having to care for a newborn without medical supervision. Or sleep.
Everyone lived; that’s a win, right?
The next day though, being the only parent able to get around, it fell to me by myself to take our daughter to meet her pediatrician. Thus began what I shall call “A Very Long Day.”
Obstacle One – Dressing a Baby
It began immediately, because that morning was the first time I’d ever had to dress my daughter without help. (Honestly, it’s pretty impressive when I dress myself without help. Or at least, it’s impressive when I manage to look presentable after doing it. No matter what my wife might tell you, I think socks, sandals, and seersucker shorts go together just fine.) For those who have never had the opportunity, dressing a baby is… challenging.
First, I am a large person. I’m only comfortable with large things. The glass that I’m drinking out of right now is a quart, because even a pint is too small. The laptop I’m typing on, I bought it because it was the largest one commercially available. The couch I’m sitting on… Well, it’s just a couch. But it’s a couch and not some dainty chair.
Second, my daughter was tiny. (At least compared to me. My wife, whose experience was understandably different, assures me that my daughter was quite big enough at the time.) Her entire foot was the size of my thumb. Even more, she was so floppy and fragile. All her clothes were small too. I felt like I should have tried to dress her with tweezers, but I only had my big clumsy fingers. It was like doing surgery with a bulldozer, although surgery doesn’t usually involve cute little ducky pajamas.
Nevertheless, bedecked in those darling pajamas and a dozen blankets, we were ready to face the gentle fall breeze. Of course, we had to get out of the house first.
Obstacle Two – Strapping In
My wife and I have never really been masters of punctual and modest travel preparation. Having a baby didn’t help. Not that I could have realized that at the time, because that would have involved having any ideas about how to prepare. Instead, I was only worried about one thing.
My daughter cried when she was born of course, which I remember distinctly not liking. However, the first time I actually did something that made her cry, I was putting her in her car seat to come home from the hospital. She didn’t like it at all. Consequently, neither did I.
Only about twelve hours had passed since then, and we were going to have to repeat the experience. She may not have known what was coming, but I was gun shy. As it turns out, no, we still didn’t like it.
Eventually I would realize that it was possible to loosen the car seat’s straps while putting the baby in, so that it required less squishing and bending. Unfortunately, she was something like fourteen months old by that point. Oopsies.
Obstacle Three – Highways and Stoplights and Traffic, Oh My!
If you’re one of the people responsible for the hospital’s impassioned car seat awareness, perhaps you think that my problems ended once I knew my daughter was safely secured in her little, owl-covered, plastic, travel tank. The opposite was more the case. I had heard a rumor that it was possible for babies’ heads to flop in such a way that they could no longer breath, and I wasn’t certain I had angled the seat correctly so that my daughter’s head wouldn’t flop.
First, it’s difficult to prevent a newborn’s head from flopping no matter what you do. They’re designed to be floppy, like little stuffed rabbits. If my head where half the size of my body, I’d probably be floppy too. Actually, I do have a preternaturally large noggin, so I probably shouldn’t talk.
Second, babies’ heads flop without any regard to physics or logic. Maybe it has something to do with their size again, or how wispy their little necks are. My daughter kind of looked like a pumpkin on a pencil, and her pumpkin kept ending up in odd positions.
It was stressful.
I was also worried that she might wake up and be hungry. My wife was the one equipped to deal with that eventuality. All I could do would be frustrate her and look a bit like an idiot. If she woke up, I was worried she would have to cry until we got home again.
And if she did cry for any reason, she was strapped out of my convenient reach. In most emergencies I probably couldn’t have helped her even if she had been right next to me. I’m not a superhero, or even particularly quick for a regular human, but I would just have felt better with her closer.
All told, it’s possible (by which I mean that it definitely happened) that I drove the entire way to the doctor’s office singing nervous lullabies and watching for any signs of flopping.
Just so you know, in case you are unfamiliar with them, babies flop all the time and do not sleep peacefully. I think my heart actually skipped more beats than it took.
I had never been so glad to reach a doctor’s office.
Timeout – Medical Forms
Then as a relaxing aside, I got to fill out my daughter’s medical forms. Generally I hate those forms, because I don’t have much confidence that I know what they’re asking. (I have a real sensitivity to clear instructions, but that’s a story for another day.)
When a person’s medical history is less than three days long however, everything is a lot easier. For that ever so brief moment, because it doesn’t take long to summarize three days of history, I felt competent.
I’m pretty sure that was the last time that’ll happen.
To be continued… (Dramatic Music)
In part 2: I pretend to be the Hunchback of Notre Dame, I regret my life’s dearth of pirates, and I’m reminded that starvation is bad. Continue there now!