Tuesday, February 19, 2008


In Which I Drop the Baby...

Call me a prince of self-denial, but for most of my life, I swear to God, I would not have called myself an anxious person.

And then I had kids and the scales fell from my eyes and I realized just what a wound-up ball of nerves I really am. I spent most of the first three weeks of Thomas's life just lying awake, staring into the darkness, playing a hellish version of "What If?"

What if the baby just stops breathing?

What if the crib collapses?

What if the giant oak tree in our back yard--the one that hasn't budged in 175 years--suddenly falls over and crashes through the roof and crushes us in our beds? How long would the baby lie in his crib and scream before he was discovered?

What if his poop stops coming out?

What if he's allergic to water?

What if one of Her Lovely Self's nipples, like,
falls off, and chokes him?

What if one of mine does?

I was a walking cliché for a while there, the epitome of the overanxious new daddy who somehow thought that, by worrying about every conceivable scenario of danger that could befall his child I was, in the most bassackwards way, warding it off. What I was really doing, though, was killing off brain cells (from general racking and lack of sleep) at a rate I hadn't matched since college, and gaining 27 pounds of nervous-eating weight that I wouldn't completely shed until, oh, last Thursday.

I tried a lot of things to get back on an even keel. One of the few things that helped, crazily enough, was prayer. I remembered back in my parochial school days, we had a nun who used to tell us the best prayers were short ones--she was a big fan of "Oh sacred heart of Jesus, I place my trust in you." I thought that was a good plan, and so as a young person I had devised two prayers for my personal use, and both were models of brevity. There was the Prayer for Divine Intervention and Removal from Unpleasant Circumstance ("Jesus, get me out of this!") and the Prayer of Excellent--Or At Least Passable--Performance ("Dear God, don't let me fuck up," a prayer I later heard that astronauts use as well).

By the time Thomas arrived, I hadn't composed a prayer in a good 15 years, and I was desperate enough to try anything, so I came up with the Prayer of the Desperate Daddy ("Dear God, let all bad things happen to me instead") and it finally allowed me to close my eyes for a good two hours rest (which was about the best you could hope for back then. Thomas was a terrible sleeper).

Of course, what really helped me over this phase of life was not endless worrying, nor a concise plea to the Almighty. What helped was when something bad finally happened and Thomas actually got hurt.

Now, it wasn't really that bad, no scars or lasting neurological damage. What happened was:

I was sitting with Thomas one night in the old rocking chair that used to be in his room. I was reading to him--I read to him long before he had a clue what I was doing. I was a bit fidgety around the baby and since I couldn't breast-feed him (not that that stopped me from worrying about my nipples falling off and choking him), I settled on reading as a good activity to help me burn off my nervous energy.

We had two or three favorites, including the ubiquitous Goodnight Moon, The Little Fur Family, and The Monster At the End of This Book. This last was a personal favorite from my own childhood, in which Grover (the blue monster Muppet from Sesame Street) spends the entire book warning readers that there is, as the title vaguely hints, a monster at the end. In growing desperation, Grover begins bricking up and roping off pages, in a vain effort to keep readers from reaching the last page, only to realize that--duh--the monster at the end is none other than Grover himself. I enjoyed the book as a child--it's a wonderfully inventive premise (which the artist has plenty of fun with)--and the urge to defeat Grover's increasingly anxious machinations, never mind getting a look at this monster that's got him so freaked out, is nigh irresistible.

Thomas was just old enough to start responding to colors then, and I think he enjoyed seeing Grover's shaggy, blue-furred self running from page to page, trying to keep us witless readers from plodding on toward the monster at the end. Of the three books I regularly read, this one certainly caused him to be the most animated. When I read, I would hold my son up so we could look at the book together, cheek to cheek. And when I would do the Grover voice, begging the reader to "Puhleeeeze" stop reading, Thomas would squeal and hoot and then rear back to regard me in that joyfully incredulous way babies do. If you've spent any time around a baby, you know the look I mean--at first it seems like they're just checking to make sure you're still there, but there's something in their eyes that allows you to delude yourself that what they're really thinking is, How cool is this guy? That was the look Thomas would give me, before giving me a gummy smile and letting his soft little face fall back against my cheek.

Except, this one night, as I was reading, Thomas leaned back to look at me, and I turned to look at him. He gave me the gummy smile. I grinned back and, instead of turning back to the book, as I always did, I let my expression hang for a second longer, mouth slightly open, grinning like a mad fool, thinking about just how much I loved this child.

But babies are creatures of routine. And as far as Thomas--and his little neck muscles--were concerned, the routine at this point consisted of him letting his head fall forward so he could press his nose and mouth against my cheek and neck--which at that juncture should have been all he was contacting, since I was supposed to have turned my attention back to the book. Instead, he flopped forward before I could move, and ended up mashing his soft little face against the sharp edges of my still-smiling teeth.

He had a hard little head and a good bit of momentum, I remember that. He had only one tooth in his own head at that time, but it was more than enough to cut the inside of his mouth when he hit, while my teeth cut his delicate little lip. And there was plenty of blood, let me tell you--in his mouth, on his face, on my face. But it wasn't the blood that I remember most.

What I remember most was that look of pain and betrayal he fixed me with, as he proceeded to scream his little head off.

At first, I was in a blind panic, all hugs and desperate whispers ("Daddy didn't mean it! Daddy didn't mean it!"), and then I was searching for any kind of burp cloth or paper towel to staunch the blood, settling on the interior of a clean, unused diaper (they absorb a lot more than pee, it turns out). But as I sat there rocking, trying to comfort my whimpering child and dabbing at his mouth with an inside-out pair of Pampers, I saw for the first time that, Jesus, no wonder I liked The Monster At the End of This Book I mean, after all, I was Grover, that poor shaggy blue bastard. Wasn't my life like that book, and wasn't my child like the reader, and wasn't I Grover, running myself ragged trying to keep some distance between the monster--the great unknown menace--and my loved ones? And in the end, wasn't I the monster at the end of the book, a self-perpetuating source of anxiety and worry? It's not often you find an epiphany in the form of a Sesame Street character, but I was grateful for it, and for the way that realization put my life in perspective, at least for the moment.

I was also, I must admit, relieved that the other shoe had finally dropped. Understand, I certainly didn't wish harm to my child, but there was a kind of catharsis in seeing that something could happen to the baby, and it wasn't necessarily the end of the world (although, I must admit, you would have been hard-pressed to convince the baby's mother of that fact, when she arrived on the scene a few minutes later and beheld her bloody-mouthed husband apparently in the act of trying to smother their child with a diaper, but never mind about that now).

Ever since, with each child I've had, I've always found myself the same way: wound like a spring for the first several weeks or months, waiting for that shoe to drop, worrying about some unlikely peril or other, and then breathing an illicit little sigh of relief when something (never something too bad) finally happens. With the Brownie, it wasn't a shoe, it was the baby herself, and it was the result of some quite spectacular negligence: I was going down some stairs off the back porch and, instead of taking her out of the stroller and holding her with one arm while I eased the pram down the steps, I just snugged the safety belt around her and tilted the carriage on down the steps, not realizing that the Brownie was way too small for that belt, not realizing that she slid right out of it--not just out of the belt but out of the front of the stroller too. She plopped out onto the steps, and since I was back up at the top of the porch holding onto the handle from the rear, I didn't even realize it until I rolled the stroller right over her. And when I saw her little eyes blinking up at me from the ground in what can only be called mild surprise, my first thought was--well, my first thought was Oh Jesus, sweet Jesus, what have I done?!? But my second or third thought, after I snatched her up from the ground and realized that she was completely unharmed (had not even so much as uttered a single cry, that's how tough she was), was Well, there, that's over and done with. With the catastrophe come and gone, I could now get down to the business of enjoying life as their Daddy. Clumsy, clueless, hopeless Daddy, but Daddy nonetheless.

This weekend, Thomas and I were sitting on a bed we set up in the basement--it's the Brownie's old bed and it served us well as a guest bed when my Big Brother came to visit over Christmas. We were watching a TV I had only recently mounted up near the ceiling, so our attention was turned slightly up and away from what we both should have been watching--namely the Éclair, who was sitting between us, gabbling to herself as she juggled her blocks and waggled an assortment of linky monkeys.

And then she was just gone.

Now, I hadn't been completely oblivious. Out of the corner of my eye, I had been watching her. And I could see the back of her little head as it bobbed over her toys. But then, in a blink, her head dipped down, followed by the briefest flash of baby butt, the quickest fluttery kick of legs, and then she simply vanished.


I still can't quite grasp the physics of it. We were all of us situated well in the middle of the bed, far from the edge, so I can't figure out how she managed to fall off the edge--or really even get near it--with such abruptness. But she did, and evidently with enough of a time lag that she realized (even if we didn't) what was happening to her, because she had a moment to utter a brief and horrifying squawk as she disappeared.

Thomas's squawk was much louder, and filled with exponentially more alarm. "The baby fell!" he shrieked, as we both lunged, far, far too late, for the end of the bed.

It seemed to take forever to get my head over the end of that bed. My mind raced far faster.

Daddy didn't mean it! Daddy didn't mean it! I thought.

Oh Jesus, sweet Jesus, what have I done?!? I thought.

After the year I've had, I was certain my luck had gone from worse to abysmal. I had already constructed in my mind what I would see--blood, brains, disaster.

Which explains why, at first, I couldn't make sense of what I was looking at.

Mostly there was lots of dark color. Then a pair of reproachful eyes stared up at me, too wide and black to be those of a happy, healthy baby.

And then I heard the giggling and looked away from those eyes, down at my baby, who had two tiny fists clutched full of fur as she clung to Blaze's big, soft side, where she had just landed. Blaze continued to glare at me as he ever-so gradually shifted himself so the baby could slide down to a nestled spot between his paws. The Éclair looked up at us, eyebrows waggling as if to say, "Was that a great trick, or what?" Then she looked at the dog. "Baze!" she hooted, grabbing at his nose. He thumped his tail indulgently, fixed us once more with a baleful look, then lay back down to continue his nap.

As before, I felt relief, but I have to admit that my sense of guilt has lingered longer than usual. Because the incident, however well it ended, served only to remind me that the Éclair isn't the only baby I've dropped or let fall.

Over the past several weeks, I've neglected the blog--and consequently, all of you--to a degree that should be earning me baleful looks from more than my dog. But instead of taking me to task for my neglect, you've all simply been kindness itself, leaving concerned comments or dropping me gentle e-mails, wondering if everything--and everyone--is all right.

Well it is, and they are. I promise I'll be back--and this week, too--to tell you more about it.

After all, if you really want to see the monster at the end of this book, who am I to keep you from turning the pages?

From Somewhere on the Masthead

YAY! I think I speak for everyone when I say, "YAY!" Glad you're back and that everyone's OK.

You can blog or not blog all you want. But your readers get into set patterns too and wonder when you're not following yours. Just tell us when you won't be blogging for awhile. OK?

I say again: YAY!
Welcome Back! I was so happy, and rather relieved, when I checked in this evening and found a new post. I'm sure I speak for all of us when I say, I'm really glad you'er back. We've missed you a lot.
I am glad you are okay, and you came back with an update. I also LOVE there's a monster at the end of this book. It was one of my favourites growing up too, and I love reading it to children and seeing their reaction to the first time with that story.
Whew! I was sending off a few prayerful one-liners myself. Good to hear your 'voice' again.
Literally, as opposed to literarily!

It's a good thing kids are so resilient, and so forgiving -- good little role models, they are.
Welcome back - I was wondering this very morning how all was at the Magazine Mansion. I adored the Monster at the end of this book, and I've found a receptive new audience with some of my favourite 1 and 4 year olds. Yay for Blaze!
Hey MM, good to see you back, and glad everyone is doing well.

I actually remember reading a copy of that Grover book at the store when I was 7 or 8. It was fairly amusing if I recall right.

I think that we all do that dance where we wish and pray that something doesn't happen, but then it does, and it's sort of a relief. It makes it a reality, and usually it's something that you can deal with, and you realize that if you can deal with *that*, then, hey - you can probably deal with something worse, too.

Granted, I don't have children nor do I know anything about them... but I'm pretty sure that you're one of the best dads in the universe. Colliding, sliding, and dropping taken into account.

That Grover book was one of my favorites when I was a kid, too. It's actually sitting on my bookshelf right now in my mother's vain attempt to remind me how badly she wants grandkids.

Once again - I am so darn happy that you're back, MM!!!!!!!!! I'm smiling so hard over here :) :)
Whew! Huge sigh of relief. You get pnuemonia and then disappear...of course we all thought you were hooked up to a machine, dreaming of the ocean and trying not to drowned!

Glad to have you back and to know you're ok! And to know that Blaze is still watching out for his family.
Welcome back MM! Glad that all is well. Take care and I look forward to reading your update!
I thought about you and your family the other day and wondered if everything was okay. Was very glad to see this post!
Blaze totally rocks.
Blazey is the best dog EVER! And you're one lucky bastard to have him saving your ass! ;)
Thank you. I am more relieved that all is well than happy that you have written again - and that is saying a lot. I missed your writing. (Of course, that has much more to do with me seeking entertainment than your welfare). But through reading your stories some real concern for you and yours has grown in me. (How cool is that?) And I am glad that all seems well. Thanks for returing to entertain us some more.
Missed you!

Sounds like the Eclair is getting big! Post some pics when you get a chance.....puuulllease!

THe Eclair can say Dada and Baze? any other words yet? MY mother says babies almost never learn to walk and talk at the same time, so it seems she's going for talking first.
"YAY" is right. So often wanted to send you a message but if things weren't going well, the last thing you needed was a cyber stalker. Mike Z covered both bases of concern - my own selfish entertainment and genuine concern for you and yours.

One snarky comment since everything's okay - So much for your daily blogging resolution. This is meant as a gentle tease. So glad all's well.

Good dog, Blaze!
I was going to have my husband read this entry as he is a nervous father of a 3 month old himself.

I realized it would only freak him out even more, and he would never let me have the baby on the bed again.

Here's hoping the nervousness wears off soon. He's driving me insane.

Glad you're back!

My parents kept that book from my childhood, and it is now my daughter's favorite. That one, and a more-than-slightly menacing version of the three little pigs.

Glad Blaze was there to save the day yet again!
Welcome back and well worth the wait.

It doesn't have to be profound or side-splitting funny.
No baleful looks from this reader, just a loud tail-thumping that you're back!

Little doozies like rolling over the Brownie with the stroller are classic stories that I know all parents have.

Welcome back!

- Bonnie B.
whew! glad all is as well as it can be with three kiddos. thanks for checking in!

That sound you hear is all the MM family fans, sighing with relief.

I was worried about your family. It's a testament to your fine, witty and engaging writing that a horde of total(ish) strangers was worried about your well-being.

And, I'm so happy to see that Blaze is still on the job.
Good to see you, MM! Just the past few days, I'd been wondering how things are going for you.

Blaze is clearly an awesome dog. He may give you baleful looks, but if not for your legendary rescue, he wouldn't be around to give them. It evens out somewhere I think.
I will join the chorus and say that I'm glad you're back. But realize, you don't really owe us a thing. It's just that with your record of injury and illness, and after that last post, well, it's hard not to worry. :-)
And woohoo, you're back!
Hooray! So glad that everything is a-okay at the MM Mansion...and also selfishly glad to have you writing again.
MM, I can't tell you how happy I am to see another post from my favorite blogger, teller of tales, and father of three. :)

I hope that all is well in 08 and cannot wait for more stories.

Welcome back to blogging!

I had totally forgotten about The Monster at the End of This Book until you started describing it, and then it came rushing back to me all at once. I loved that book too. Thanks for the memory :)

And, of course, I must add my praise for Blaze. So awesome. And so's the Eclair, the little daredevil! Hope she hasn't developed a taste for falling off things.
You're not the first to drop a babe and won't be the last~ and a tree did fall on my son's room when he was but a wee lad and snuggled in his bed.

He's okay, I'm okay and I'm glad to hear you and the family are~ Welcome back, I surely missed you :)
it's good you found your way back, MM.
I own "The Monster at the End of This Book"...and I don't even have any children. I adore that book! I adore your stories, too! Thanks for bringing a laugh to my lunch hour!
I LOVED The Monster At the End of This Book when I was a child. It's nice to hear I wasn't the only one obsessed with that book for the same reasons.

I'm glad to hear you're back. Thank you for the very funny (and enlightening) story!
It goes without saying that I'm glad you're writing for us again. Well, actually I just said it, didn't I? Oh, well. I've never been one to use two words when thirty or forty will do. Oh - here are the two words - Welcome Back!
As with many others, I'm so happy to hear from you again. And yikes about those babies falling! I'm not a mom (yet?), but I can't imagine the stress involved with being a parent. And, the immense love that must come with it.

Looking forward to your next post...stay strong, MM.
wooohooo! Glad you're back and all is well :)

As a currently childless person who hopes to have little ones in a few years, it's a little scary reading about some of this stuff - but it definitely sounds worth both the rational and irrational fears that parents go through.

I have to ask: how is the Brownie handing her Big Sister status? any troubles sharing the affection of Blazey?
Whew...I'm so glad you're back and everyone is doing well! You had us all worried.

I can't wait to read more of your stories.
Blaze continues to astonish. A remarkable dog.

You continue to astonish as well. Your writing is truly breathtaking. You have a rare and precious gift.
So glad everyone's ok, and Blaze is still saving the day.
It's really ood to hear from you, man.
- Another Long-time Lurker
I'm, another proud owner of that book, and a childless adult.

I heart Grover.
Fell off the bed? Fell off the BED?!

After that build up, and the 2 month wait, I at least expected blood, if not disfigurement.

Happy to hear the only tragedy is your absence from blogging.
thats why I have a dog..just incase I ever fall off my bed!!

great read as always!
so glad you are back.
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