Friday, February 09, 2007

How to Handle a Kid

I have a suspicion that at least a couple of my readers will soon say to themselves, “Hey, look, we have a kid, now what do we do?”

Good thing I am here to tell the story of how Barbara and I successfully raised our first baby, Julia! There was no one there to tell us what to do. We had to make it up as we went along.

The night Julia was born, we were way too hip to stay at the oppressive hospital institution. So around 10 at night, we drove home with our little girl. For some reason, Barbara was very tired and wanted to go straight to bed and sleep. The nurses had assured us that Julia would very likely sleep for hours and hours due to the stress of birth. However, Julia has always had her own agenda, and she had one that night.

I was staggering tired after being awake for about 36 hours for the whole birth incident. I had spent most of that time standing next to the bed saying things like “good job, honey” or “you’re doing great”. Inside I was screaming, “What is going on!” and “I’m not ready for this!”. I really wasn’t ready. I had only held a baby once before in my life. About a year earlier I had been forced to hold my nephew Jonathan. It was 20 or 30 seconds of a strange combination of feeling awkward and terrified.

Now, with Barbara sawing logs in the next room, I found myself holding a tiny person who continually screamed at the top of her tiny lungs. Screamed, writhed, and generally let me know that she was very unhappy. We had read about 20 books on pregnancy and birth, but I don’t remember even a magazine article about what to do once the kid got out!

It may have been instinct that led me to cradle Julia tenderly and close, but mostly I remember I was afraid I would drop her. Walking the floor, back and forth, also seemed right because sitting still while someone screams in your ear is very difficult. Yes it was a tiny scream. Tiny, piercing, and persistent beyond all belief.

I walked and walked and wondered what happened once I finally became exhausted and collapsed. For the sake of variety I ventured into the living room which is two short steps down from the kitchen. It was then that I discovered that the bumping walk down the steps was somehow soothing to Julia. I headed over to the stair case and slowly plodded up and down the stairs, over and over again. I began to remember certain tortuous football drills I had endured. But the screaming paused!

I was a relatively healthy 32 year old man. In fact, I had been clean and sober for months in honor of this event! So I was able to walk up and down those stairs much longer than most people could imagine when they see me hobbling about with a cane now. In fact I honestly cannot remember ever stopping, although I must have. Every time I tried to stop, the screaming started again. After a while I peeped in on Barbara a time or too, but I sensed that she was very tired and perhaps wanted some time alone.

Somehow, after hours and hours of no sleep and intense anxiety about what to do next, I just kept doing whatever I had to do. I remember nothing of it. This proved to be an excellent pattern for child rearing. It is one that I know worked for us.

Hold the kid. Try to stay calm while the kid screams and writhes. Later, if you can get the kid to suck on a breast, do that! If the kid’s diaper seems extra squishy or smells fecal, peel it off the little butt, wipe, and put a clean one on. Continue this routine for days, weeks, and months. If the kid is willing to lay asleep in a cradle, let her sleep. Thankfully, after the first few weeks, Julia was able to sleep for almost 2 hours at a stretch before awakening screaming. As Barbara recovered her strength, we were able to take turns walking her around the rest of the time. Sometimes she slept as I held her. I learned to do a whole lot of things with just one hand.

If you start to have doubts that you will be able to endure, take a second to consider your 6 or 7 billion fellow human beings. In every case, someone found a way to cope with them. You will find a way also.

Little did we realize that those were the gloriously simple family times. Soon enough, our youngest, Samuel, lay howling in my arms while the other three kids busied themselves with dismantling every possession I held dear. By then I longed for the simplicity of a single screaming entity in my life.

May God bless little babies and the parents who care for them.
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