In this installment of “Love, Recorded,” baby Grace teaches her parents a lesson and does some PR for her dad.
Babies train you. For nine months, you are subject to your baby’s cravings. You learn to respect the belly. You make room for the belly in your lives, see how life revolves around it, allow strangers to approach it as if it somehow belongs to everyone. The belly dictates, leaves marks and itches and makes you cry and still is achingly beautiful. The mother accepts the baby as part of her, and then it is born resembling its father, so the father’s instincts kick in. At first, the baby does its business odorlessly; by the time the diapers stink, you’re used to the concept of diapers. The baby teaches you its cues, and when you learn those, teaches you new cues.
But when you lose pace with your baby, what do you do then?
On our walks with Grace, when I see older children and how they act with their parents, I feel instantly that we’ve done the best thing ever or that we’ve made a terrible mistake. It seems all or nothing, having a baby. I tend to be a fool for the future, but it’s hard not to look down that long path and imagine our mistakes or successes adding up to her mistakes or successes.
Babies go out rain or shine. They have plastic covers for their strollers, tiny umbrellas, cute hats. Every time it rains, Cathreen’s body aches. Boston has not been a friend to us. Grace likes the rain, the sound like the sound of the womb. If she doesn’t get out, she screams.
I have been telling people that this—her fourth month—is a golden time of babyness, that now that she is sleeping through the night, is more alert, more resembles a homosapien, taking care of her is a joy. But each time I say this, my voice sounds hollow.
The truth is, as she learns to desire things, she knows more about what she doesn’t want than what she wants. She is becoming more perceptive, turning over, trying to stand, grabbing toys, sucking her hands to comfort herself, and what we love is this newness—but she can learn a language in a year while it’s taken us a year to come to terms with the fact that a baby comes out of its mommy. At times, Grace seems to wield her voice like a whip.
My wife is ever more attentive. She takes the baby to church to play with other babies. I have a book just out and am constantly at war with time. I’ve compromised by using Grace to promote the book. The fear of being a bad parent never goes out of fashion.
When the baby seems sick, though, we both jump into shipwreck mode. On Saturday, Grace throws up a third of what she eats. “Like waterfall,” Cathreen keeps saying, making a motion like her hand is diving from her mouth. We don’t feel a fever. Grace is still laughing and playing. But every few minutes, out comes a little more milk.
We have gotten used to calling the doctor’s office and having a nurse say nothing is wrong, it’s all normal, babies are tough, mysterious things. For some reason, this answer pisses us off. Not that we want them to tell us everything is wrong, but maybe a little less dismissal. We’re new parents, they keep saying. If we have another kid, a child in pain won’t even faze us. We’ll learn enough to be heartless.
So now it takes Cathreen a while to agree to calling in. She claims that they will say that if the baby is growing well, and doesn’t have a fever, she’s fine. And this is exactly what happens. We are told to call back if a fever develops, and if we’re worried, we can schedule an appointment for urgent care in the morning.
We call back when we notice that Grace keeps scratching and tugging one ear. Cathreen is thinking ear infection. The nurse is skeptical, but the next day, we make the trek to Somerville, since our doctor’s office is closed on the weekend.
The urgent care doctor says Grace has just figured out that she has an ear. She says it’s just a stomach ache. “Grace,” she says, “you know you have an ear!” We make the formula less heavy and change the slow-rent nipples and our daughter turns out to be fine. A baby is born a tough, mysterious thing. I hope we’ll always be the weaker ones.
—photo John Grabowski.