Took my daughter to the doctor yesterday. Baby Harbat loves our pediatrician, a big bear of a man with gentle hands and calming manner. She sat dutifully for her ear and nose checkups, and watched with fascination as he held up the stethoscope to her chest and listened. When it came time for her vaccination shot, all was good until I laid her back on the exam table. She burst into tears and had to be held down. She knew. Knew that the table was questionable, laying back was bad, and the needle was worse. She bawled for the shot, which took .5 seconds, then for about 10 seconds after. Then it was done, and she managed a “bye-bye” to the nurse. But those tears, that look of surprise, these are the new experiences of a parent.
I remember when BH was a little infant, how small her cry sounded. When she made little mewing sound in the hospital after she was born I thought, oh, I can handle this. Ha ha, stupid newbie father! I didn’t know that the lungs and vocal chords would be the first muscles to develop in our little honey-bun, giving her the back-row projection of a career soprano.
One of the new experiences for me as a father was hearing someone I loved screaming in misery. Rookie mistake number two: baby crying doesn’t always equal misery. Babies only have one way of communicating, and the louder the cry, the more effective. But I was not used to hearing this kind of wail. I learned that something deep in our animal core is hard-wired to respond to our own child’s cry with urgency. Immediacy. When my daughter cried, it set off alarm bells in my head: “Respond! Fix it!” For the first few months, I would get wound up tighter and tighter as she cried. Then I discovered foam earplugs. Like a nice sedative, it just took the edge off her cries. Yes, I could hear her and knew she needed help, but it wasn’t rattling me quite as much.
Now that she’s approaching one and a half, her cries are more infrequent and usually not as full-bodied. But when she does go into a full wail, my body responds in the same way: “Fix it! Help her!” I suppose this never goes away, and it’s an experience that only comes from having your own child.
I’ve always hated when people tell me, “You wouldn’t understand.” And especially so when it came from smug parents, “Oh, you’ll get it when you have kids.” Well, you can get it if you don’t have kids. Get your spouse or loved one to scream in complete misery at full volume. At three in the morning. Without warning. And they won’t be able to tell you what’s wrong—you have to guess. Yep, that’s exactly what it’s like.
I’ve got a great recommendation on earplugs. Interested?