The biggest problem with babies is scheduling: they don’t confine their needs to the daytime. In the middle of the night, even caring for myself can be a challenge unless I’m faced with an issue that can be solved by remaining in bed: “Oh no, I’m tired” or “Oh no, my blankets are so cozy!” I vowed to care for my wife too, but middle of the night wife-care situations arise so infrequently that they don’t statistically register. Also they’re generally funny: “Help, honey, the unicorn’s engine needs our tax documents” or “Can you get another farm for me from the dishwasher; this broccoli isn’t seven.” (Ever so much more on all of this another time.)
But babies are more difficult, and to make matters worse, whatever other means might be required to satisfy them, getting out of bed is nearly always the first step. At least in my estimation, it’s hard to recover from a start like that. Unless I’m getting out of bed to go to a bigger more comfortable bed, I’m probably going to have trouble with whatever I try to do.
Oddly, my daughter never woke me up to tell me that she had found a bigger bed for me. Instead, for her first few months, her primary nighttime concern was hunger, which confused and terrified her. Since she had inherited all of my wife’s directness, she responded by flailing around and screaming in desperation. (Imagine a grown woman doing that and you’ll understand why we never postpone our supper.)
Just to be clear, I’m not saying that I was upset at her for being hungry. On the contrary, if I suddenly developed a gnawing ache in my belly that I could neither understand nor address, and if I didn’t recognize other peoples’ efforts to help, I’d probably wail too. In fact, I think it’s a sign of God’s loving provision that I don’t remember being a baby, because that kind of total helplessness would shatter my feeble but stubbornly autonomous brain. Frankly, I would have screamed a lot more than my daughter ever did.
No, with regard to her nighttime feedings, my problems were entirely logistical. The more tired I was, the more I became like an awkward heavy grizzly bear, and the more every task became like trying to manipulate tiny china teacups. Imagine having to sip a proper British Tea with big clumsy bear paws. Can bears even extend their pinky fingers? Do bears have pinky fingers? The obstacles abound.
When one of those teacups was panicking and in tears, and the solution required precision action–finding the right bottle, figuring out the bottle warmer, remembering how to work the faucet in our kitchen sink, standing–the result was seldom pretty.
On top of all that, as I’ve mentioned before once, twice or three times, I always had an overwhelmingly visceral response to my daughter’s cry. The mighty father in me started looking for ways to rescue my little girl; he wanted to solve her problem in the way that men are designed to solve problems: through the use of overwhelming strength and size.
Unfortunately, there were never big strong solutions for my teacup problems; believe me, I looked. There were no villains to fight, no burdens to lift, no experiences to shield anyone from. There was just an assortment of household items, and each was mockingly diminutive. I always felt like I had stumbled out the hallway into Lilliput.
Someday someone will design a baby bottle that’s the size of a can of paint, and will provide instructions for warming it in a stew pot. Its lid will be the size of a dinner plate, but not a fragile dinner plate. If I have to put any medicine in the milk, I will get to use a garden hose. On that day I will rejoice. I imagine that I’ll also be a bit terrified about how big the corresponding baby must be, but I’ll rejoice.
That my daughter eventually learned to trust me was evidence that she had also inherited my wife’s abounding mercy. She began to understand that my arrival was the beginning of a solution to her hunger, so she would stop crying as soon as I picked her up, rather than needing to taste the milk first.
After that our late night gatherings acquired a gentle affectionate quality. I think it did my inner father good to realize that my presence alone counted as a rescue. I imagine that it made my bearishness slightly more teddy than grizzly, too. I also like to imagine that the time helped my daughter with the idea that she had people on whom she could depend. As a bit of a bonus, not to brag or anything, I was much warmer and more snuggly than any bassinet.
Of course, then she stopped needing to eat in the middle of the night. I admit, I miss it a bit. Don’t get me wrong, uninterrupted sleep is nice; I like my bed and I like to stay in it. Nevertheless, some interruptions are worse than others. A sweet little girl who appreciates my arrival and wants to snuggle up close to me, that’s not a bad interruption at all.
More on that in part 2 though, when my daughter creates a game and I slowly realize that I’m not an owl.