Stephen Parrish quickly realized that babies don’t come with manuals, so he’s sharing the wisdom the little tykes imparted to him.
When I first became a father I embarked on the job with some misconceptions about babies. I’m here to confess them, and to warn other new fathers so they might avoid my foolish prejudices.
- Babies are ugly. In my baby I could see a little of my wife and a little of myself. The latter was comforting, as it confirmed my role in the infant’s preconstruction. It was almost like looking at a hologram: if I shifted my view slightly to one side or another I saw something different. Sometimes I saw other relatives, but fortunately those apparitions never lasted long. At any rate, I couldn’t call ugly what looked like me, so after wandering through parks and inspecting infants in their carriages, I have changed the maxim to: Everyone else’s baby is ugly.
- Babies must be burped after meals. Truth is, babies don’t burp, they projectile vomit. The literature directed me to place a bib or towel on my shoulder after feeding, then hold my baby in such a way that the spittle—should there be any—would dribble onto the bib when she burped. The literature didn’t warn me not to stand in front of my bookcase. The people who wrote the literature were raised in barns. I have since changed the maxim to: Like champagne corks, babies must be aimed in a safe direction.
- Babies are noisy. There are noises we must tolerate, like a pounding jackhammer, that drown out all other noises. But the noise a baby makes is intermittent; sharp as it may sometimes be, you can still make out what others are saying by interpolating the missing words. For example, your best friend says to you, “Please pay back the money you borrowed because I need a serious operation.” You hear, “Please (baby screams) the money you borrowed (baby screams) need a (baby screams).” You interpolate and get, “Please hold onto the money you borrowed because you need a soothing vacation.” Babies, you see, merely excise words from the conversation.
- Babies destroy things. Actually this is an unhealthy way of looking at a talent all babies have: to differentiate between what is valuable and what is not. To be sure, they reduce all valuable things to their constituent atoms. But you have to admire any infant who can identify the Single Most Expensive Object in a room otherwise filled with junk and make splinters of it the moment you turn your back. A corollary talent is finding all the things you hide from them. But having hidden them, and knowing the talents babies possess, you have only yourself to blame. Babies don’t destroy things, they make you position your valuables as high as possible and prepare your house for a flood.
- Pampers are a father’s best friend. It’s true Pampers absorb modest quantities of urine. Problem is, babies shit buckets, and no diaper can hold it all. Hell, a garbage pail strapped to a baby’s ass would overflow. You’ll appreciate Pampers until you witness your daughter standing in the middle of the living room, rivers of liquid shit bursting the dam of her “impenetrable” elastic linings, the “wetness indicator” escalating to alarm mode (Ah-oo-gah! Ah-oo-gah!), an endless brown slurry cascading down her legs and puddling on the carpet. After a couple of years mopping this stuff up you’ll think, My child will be the only college student with a changing table in her dorm room.
- Babies have short memories. Say you’re hammering a nail, and the hammer hits your thumb. You’re a guy, right? The hammer will hit your thumb. You say, “Goddamn motherfucking shit.” Your baby says, “Goddamn motherfucking shit,” and although she has heard several thousand other words that week, in a myriad combinations, and her memory will otherwise be so poor she won’t remember to maintain a firm grip on the bowl of cereal she has inexplicably raised above her head, she will remember this particular string of words and will repeat it when the family priest comes to dinner. Remember: You’ll eat every unkind word you’ve ever said to your kid the day she drops you off at the nursing home.
Photo: Tim & Selena Middleton/Flickr