By Gregory Keer
It’s 11:30pm, a minute after I’ve mercifully fallen asleep, and my wife says, “It’s your turn.” I go to visit my gently crying baby, put a pacifier in his mouth, watch him quiet, and sneak out of the room before he needs anything more involved.
It’s after 1am and my wife — who has taken the last three baby calls — smacks my backside with a force I thought only reserved for children at 19th-century boarding schools, “It’s your turn!” I hear Jacob wailing and scramble awkwardly from the bed before my wife draws blood. Going to him, I try the pacifier and he spits it out like warm beer. I rub his head’s soft spot, but that makes him cry harder. I pick him up and pat him as he screams and pulls my chest hair with the force of a gorilla. He wants to be walked…around the house…for half an hour…in the middle of the night. He finally collapses asleep. I gingerly lay him in the crib and run like hell to my room, stepping in cat throw-up along the way, and bark at my wife, “And you think you want a third!”
It’s just before 6am and I blearily see my wife is not getting up, despite Jacob’s escalating moaning. “It’s my turn,” I say. I go to the crib and find him grumbling, snot running from his nose. “Why won’t you let me sleep, you little monster?” I croak.
Then, those big brown eyes flutter open and he — grins. I sigh, tension releasing. “Good morning, Jacob,” I say as if I am one of the Seven Dwarves and Snow White has finally awakened.
Having a second baby is nothing and everything I imagined. It is indeed more than twice the work and three times the frustration. You see, I thought I had already graduated from Baby College. But like those nightmares we all have of repeating high school because we were late for a test, I am reliving the curriculum.
I am returning to the sleepless nights, the poops that penetrate steel barriers, the inconsistent bottle feedings. I am Bill Murray in Groundhog Day.
Now add something Mr. Murray didn’t have to deal with — a preschooler. Everything’s more complicated when you’re trying to care for a baby while the bigger kid still needs proper attention.
But all that being said, this experience is more like Snow White than Groundhog Day. Jacob’s smile is as big and constant as his mom’s. He’s delightfully ticklish, especially after a bath, and he is patient as a saint around his rambunctious brother.
And while I feel guilty (I just can’t get through a column without a guilt confession) that I give Jacob less attention than I did Benjamin when he was an infant, I try to focus on the positives and let him trigger my lost skills as the caregiver of a baby.
Sometimes, those triggers take a little longer to fire. Like the fact that it took me two months to realize that you need to change a diaper more than once or twice a day. Why do they make Huggies so darn absorbent if they can’t make the long haul? I still haven’t got the sense to wear a cloth over my shirt after Jacob eats. I regularly show up for work with “milk badges.” And I will never figure out why my child needs to shriek like a cast member from Halloween while we’re driving. All those books say driving is supposed to calm a baby.
Then there’s the return of some of my favorite baby pastimes. As with my first-born, I like to sing the theme from Bonanza and watch Jacob kick and splash like a maniac. I love how he studies the backs of his hands as he discovers that these amazing tools belong to him. I even adore the way he forcefully pulls the remaining hair from my head as he perches on my neck, drunk with the power of sitting “on top of the world.”
But one of my most precious times with him is on the too infrequent mornings I take him into the playroom before anyone else wakes up. There, I clear a space from the superhero and Hot Wheel minefield my eldest creates the day before, and place my little one on a fresh blanket. He coos at me and soon rolls onto his tummy. He looks up, waiting for a reaction. I applaud. He giggles proudly…But not nearly as proudly as his daddy.