Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Giant Baby

Dylan just had her nine month check-up and was signed off with a clean bill of health. 75th percentile in weight, 95th percentile in height, and, like any poll or statistic, we've manipulated the numbers to mean much more than necessary. She's tall! and strong! She'll crush her foes (prospective boyfriends who are undeterred by her father's gun collection) and rule planet Earth someday!

But, while the appointments are all fine and good for our baby (except for the shots, of course), I always feel like I'm going in for a very important oral exam for which I have not studied. I don't mean to imply that our pediatrician's office is intimidating, in fact, it's quite the opposite. Our doctor is knowledgeable and athletic; the nurses are all kind and attractive. It's like a TV show doctor's office. (Our doctor's name: Don Johnson. Really.) I just know that if I'm screwing up as a father, they're going to call me on it. I quietly pray as Dylan is placed on the digital scale that she's gained the appropriate amount of weight and is not over or under-nourished. I cross my fingers as Dylan gets inspected, worried that they'll catch some "flaw" that is a direct result of something I did, or did not, do properly.

In college, my friend Matt and I took a "Film Appreciation" course from a quirky and brilliant professor. Dr. Diane Borden could analyze and dissect anything. We learned that the same archetypal symbols found in films are also in dreams, hence, she could, and often did, discuss what student's dreams meant. Matt vowed he'd never offer up a dream of his for analysis because, no matter what the dream was about (hunting, making out with chicks, splitting wood), he feared Dr. Borden would look up at him in the last row of the auditorium, scratch her chin, and say, "Well, you're gay."

I feel the same trepidation Matt felt. I'm offering up my baby for analysis and I'm terrified of the response. I keep expecting the nurse to look at me, scratch her chin, and say, "We'll keep her for a while until you get better at this." I keep looking for the hidden hotline button that will have CPS kicking down the door to the waiting room in under five minutes.

So far, things have gone well -- except for the pee-fountain that Dylan poured out on our first visit which sent Regina and I into helpless hysterics. Sharon, the nurse, calmly placed her hand over the geyser until it subsided (I didn't even know girls could pee in that direction) and cleaned off the walls with a handful of baby wipes. I thought I saw her marking something on her clipboard, and I'm sure I lost some valuable "father points."

Luckily, we've been able to keep Dylan after each check-up. When Dr. Johnson hands her over and tells us all the nice things people say about babies (she's beautiful, she's happy, she looks like her mother ...) and says he'll see us in three months, I quietly exhale a sigh of relief and run as fast as I can to the truck before CPS arrives.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

What I've Learned

Spring semester has started and my class is hard at work on their first essay, a narrative loosely based on Esquire magazine's "What I've Learned" feature. I've decided to lead the way for my fearless students and write my own "What I've Learned: The First Nine Months." Here goes:

1. To all those who told me that I won't mind the smell of baby shit after the first few hundred diapers -- you were 100% wrong. I do mind the smell; it gags me.

2. Babies can reach out and grab like little lightning fast ninjas. Dylan can give a titty-twister as hard as any full grown man. Not that I've had a full grown man twist my nipples lately, but the point is, they still hurt like a mother.

3. All the gross things parents do that I swore I'd never do? I do them all and actually enjoy snacking on mushy crackers that Dylan has used as teething rings. I use my spit-finger to clean off her boogers, then wipe said boogers on my own clean clothes. And I love getting baby kisses, even if they are from an open-mouthed, drooling, food-stained daughter.

4. Nothing is louder than the sound of your own child crying in a nice restaurant. Or really, any restaurant.

5. Any piece of clothing with at least three miniscule baby-buttons will be worn only when necessary. Jumpsuits with buttons than run from neck to toe will remain in the closet until they are too small to be worn. Conversely, clothing with snaps will be worn well past the recommended age limit, making Dylan look like an overstuffed sausage. Velcro would be ideal.

6. If I drop anything on the floor smaller than a quarter, Dylan will find it and eat it.

7. Don't make a baby laugh when she has a mouth full of chicken-vegetable-blueberry goulash. Also, don't tickle a baby as she's pulling herself up on a step-stool. She'll fall and you'll feel like a heel.

8. Sometimes, just putting pillows on the floor for landing pads as Dylan plays on the couch constitutes good parenting. As long as other parents don't catch you. Or Regina.

9. Babies bring out the songwriter in us all. Granted, it's usually the same song, with different verses to match the current activity. As of now, I have thirty different versions of the "We're Going To Eileen's" song, but they all begin the same way. You guessed it (sing along): "We're going to Eileen-y's, we're going to Eileen-y's." It's catchy and I can dance to it.

And, finally: 10. No matter what, a smile from Dylan always makes me feel like the best Dad in the world. Even if it's followed by a big, smelly poop.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Grizzly Girl

It must have been a few weeks ago, but I have this vague recollection that I offered up some lame wisdom ... something about learning something new each day from your child. I think I'd just polished off an article in "Parenting" magazine and was feeling pretty cocky about my dad-ness abilities.

Well, now I've learned that I may have jumped the gun in offering up solid advice. I think (get out your pen and paper) that what I'm learning about myself and my daughter is trumped tenfold by what Dylan is learning about her parents. For example, just last weekend Dylan learned that screaming, loudly, every six or seven seconds while we are driving to Medford, will drive her parents into hysterics. She gets to watch her mother repeat, "I don't know what you want," over and over until she finally unbuckles her seatbelt, and crawls into the backseat of the the truck. And she gets to watch her father stare blankly ahead at Interstate 5 and wonder, out loud, about meaningless things passing by. "That car has a dent in it. Hello to you, family of four in your mini-van. Hey, a buzzard. Nice driving, motorcycle, ride on."

To carry her experiment one step further, Dylan tried to see if her screaming would product the same result in a store. The store in question was Big R -- our country-supply store. What she didn't know was that once inside Big R, her father runs around like a Meerkat on meth. Guns! Boots! Equine tranquilizers! Camo! So, while her experiment failed with her father, she learned that it's the enclosed confines of the truck that amplifies her shouts and have full effect on her mother. The acoustics aren't as good inside a warehouse store and Regina was able to put together some sentences. The most sensible was, I swear to God, "Can you believe they don't have rawhide dog treats? I tried to find one for Dylan to chew on, but they're out." I just shrugged and said, "I gotta find some rope."

The scream-experiment also failed because it gave her position away, so I could either hide in the saddle section, or retreat back to the stroller, depending on the time. Dylan continued the experiment in the Sportsman's Warehouse, Target, Barnes and Noble, and a Japanese Restaurant. It was in the restaurant that we learned something that was so profound, so mind-blowing, that we wrote it down on a legal pad and sent it in to "Parenting" magazine. It's revolutionary and will make "The Baby Whisperer," weep that she hadn't realized it first. We are fully expecting a "Parents of the Year Award" for this one.

Are you ready? Again, please have your pen and paper ready because I'll only say this once: While screaming may seem like an obvious way for your bored child to get attention, it may also mean that she's hungry. Yes, hungry. Feed her right away. So there, Dr. Spock, there's a new sheriff in town, and he's feeling pretty cocky.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Mouth Sweep

By now, Dylan has excellent crawling skills (she's approved to crawl in most states), and, since nothing comes without a hitch, she's also broken her first tooth. So, instead of cutely crawling across the floor to get from toy A to toy B, she now feels compelled to put anything smaller than her head into her mouth. And so, when I write that this week Dylan really got a taste of what it's like to be a country girl, I, of course, mean that literally. Wood chips, snow, slow spiders, cat hair, something from the bottom of my boot, even Swedish Fish (I know, not too "country," but they are her dad's favorite food) have all found their way into her mouth. Last week, Regina found hay in her poop (Hay! I don't remember eating hay!).

I guess this is what all the cool babies are doing, but this stage makes us pang for the days of the toothless, stationary-baby (which was, I guess, just last Saturday). Now, along with bath, jammies, and bedtime book as nightly rituals, we've added "mouth sweep," and "diaper check." So far we've found a nearly cord of wood and a set of false teeth.

Just when we thought we couldn't be more vigilant, we've learned that the microscopic spec of a gnat's leg that we'd overlooked and the vacuum didn't suck up is fodder for Dylan. Her vision, especially at floor-level, must be 20/10 because she can spot a spec of dust from ten yards away, scamper over to it, and put it in her mouth before we can snatch an ankle and drag her back to her play toys. She'll also pick at dents in the flooring, mistaking the indentations for bits of dropped food. Our only solution for that is to cover the damaged spots with a throw rug.

I also learned, the hard way, that snow to Dylan is like the ocean or Santa Claus -- great for other kids, but suspicious as hell to her. Dylan wasn't too terrified when we put her on the snow disc and slid her around the backyard, and she didn't howl when I yanked it out from under her, and she didn't even squeal at three G's as I spun her in circles, but it was obvious that cold and snow are going to have to be an acquired taste. We'll wait until next year to unwrap that snowboard.

For now we'll keep scattering blueberries across the floor and hope that Dylan spots them before she finds the nest of spiders beneath the refrigerator or the pin I dropped but cannot find and remember to soak in every day, every moment, we have with our little bug.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Leon Spinx and Crocs

For a couple of months now, Dylan has been on the verge of two things: teething and crawling. We've attributed any fussy behavior and drooling to teething. This has been since September, and still, no teeth. Regina and I have finally conceded that Dylan just may be a toothless, drooling person, much like Leon Spinx.

The crawling thing tricked us a little as well. Like the teeth that we looked for every day, Dylan duped us into thinking that, yes, any second now I will begin crawling. Watch for it. We'd hold our breath as Dylan got up on her hands and knees, would do a little booty dance, and then, just at the moment we expected forward progress, she'd plop down on her belly and wiggle her arms and legs like a baby skydiver.

We figured that Dylan would skip the crawling stage of her development altogether, but last weekend she took her first tentative step forward (forward is important here, as she's been scooting backward on the hardwood floors for a few weeks, which doesn't count as crawling, even for us). It was beautiful. An honest-to-God left hand, right foot step. She immediately plopped down to her belly and resumed skydiving. We squealed. Dylan screamed. She repeated this all evening until she put together two or three steps in a row. Dylan could now literally crawl YARDS without rolling or scooting backwards.

One thing we've learned, and promptly forgotten, is that with kids, every day is something new. Crawling was no exception. Day two of crawling was a nice progression from day one, much like we expected our little Mensa star to do. The crawl evolved into a step, dive, roll combination that made her look like a wounded animal. The step was ugly, yet functional, much like turtlenecks or Crocs.

Dylan broke out her A game for day three and abandoned the whole hands and knees aspect of crawling. She's now gone from the crawl position, then up to hands and tippy-toes, then gives a big dive forward, much like a breakdancer doing "the worm." She can put three or four of these together and cover the length of the living-room in 4.5 seconds flat.

The first night she crawled, I told Regina that it was the beginning of the end. No more propping Dylan in front of the window to look at the kitties while we run into town for a few grocery items. No more stationary baby, we now have a traveller. On the bright side, we may have America's first breakdancing baby. That's got to be worth something on YouTube. Look out Leon Spinx, Dylan's coming.