The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Friday, January 03, 2003

A few days back, my friend Kirby came over with his newborn daughter in tow. Within about three minutes of coming in, the little squirt started bawling her head off. Nothing unusual for a little baby, but she was really getting into it, to the point where she turned all red and got really worked up. And LOUD, by the way. This persisted even as her father and I were doing all the funny faces and cooing we could think of in an effort to cheer her up. Dad even changed her diaper, figuring that was the main source of her discomfort; no dice, she kept crying without a pause. Finally, after about 20 minutes, they left, and I later learned that she stopped crying pretty much as soon as her baby seat was strapped into the car seat and they were mobile. (Must have been the room temperature or something; she's been here before without that reaction).

Now, my reason for recounting this isn't to claim offense; after all, it's an infant, who knows why they do half the things they do. Rather, what struck me was the way that her father handled the episode. Kirb was pretty calm and patient the whole time, even as he was making goofy faces, calmly talking to her, carrying her around, etc. He even admitted that she had never cried this badly and to this extent before; yet he was pretty placid through it all, (almost) like a seasoned pro.

I, on the other hand, was kind of on the edge of panic (although I don't think it really showed). All that I could think of was: How do I get this kid to stop crying?? I mean, I was genuinely worried about her, that somehow she was in real pain and was in some kind of trouble. And all that was running through my mind was what I could possibly do to stop this, whether that was jumping up on the furniture and dancing around, or what have you.

I'd like to think that this stemmed solely from a deep affection for the kid and wanting to make her happy. That was surely part of it, but I've got to admit: Just hearing that pained crying continuing on-end also hit some sort of paternal nerve (I wonder if that's a built-in human reaction? I'm guessing yes, that people are somehow hard-wired to react in a protective way when they hear a baby crying; a survival mechanism that ensures babies are well-cared for) that was uncomfortable, and impelled me to make it stop. In a positive way, of course; I guess more unstable(?) people resort to less desirable ways to "make it stop" (i.e., physical abuse).

What made it more unnerving at the time was, as I said, how unfazed Kirby was. I mean, he was concerned and doing all he could, and I suppose he also could have been panicky in his mind. But he sure didn't look like it; and I think, since he's been experiencing parenthood for some 4 months, he's developed some coping skills for it.

The upshot is, I have to say I admire Kirby to an extent. I mean, it's got to be a huge stress to be worrying about the kid every step of the way, and be able to handle it so adroitly. His wife, Angela, also deserves like praise, for an even bigger achievement. She's a neonatal nurse, and probably hears babies crying the whole time she's at work. Between the two of them, caring for the kid keeps them on their toes. I see single mothers (I'm guessing) walking around with their kids all the time, and I can't imagine how they can handle it; I can see how hard it is for a mom-and-dad couple doing it.

Parenting. Quite the challenge. I think I'll leave it to others for the time being.