Saturday, November 14, 2009

Don't Worry, Be Happy

Thursday was Amari's one week birthday, which also happened to be my first day back at work. She'd only been alive for one hundred sixty-eight hours, I'd been with her for nearly all of them, and it felt both unjust and abrupt that I had to leave her for almost half a day. I'd be missing the next 5.3 percent of her life, I thought to myself. Math, which has been historically soothing in times of crisis, was failing me.

I woke up earlier than usual that morning and held Amari for a long time before I left, running my hand over her dark, wispy hair, imagining mine would probably have the same thickness in about thirty years - maybe sooner. I'd watched her closely over the past seven days, the subtle changes in her facial expressions, the mercifully drastic changes to the shape of her head, the countless changes in diapers, and I wished I could put her on pause until I got home. "Don't go changin'," I whispered in her ear, which she probably interpreted as, "Beard Man is handing you to Boob Lady now." I passed her to Carrie with a wistful smile and walked out the door. As I headed down the driveway, I felt like a little kid going to my first day of school again - excited, worried, proud, and pining for the days of five minutes ago.

I remembered mornings like this from my childhood in Bolinas, a few days from the last rain, mist rising from the frosted grass as the sun rose slowly through the trees. Instead of pine then, it smelled like Eucalyptus, and instead of heading straight to school, I would stop at every puddle to search for polliwogs; gathering them into glass jars with holes in the lids so I could take them home and watch them grow into frogs. It was futile. They would morph slowly, grow small legs, absorb their tails, and I would actually see these things happening. I paid close attention, knowing they would transform completely any minute. Then I would wake up one morning or come home from school some afternoon, and they were suddenly frogs. I'd missed it. This is how I imagine parenting feels sometimes.

When I left work last week, I was an expectant father, in some ways still that child in Bolinas. I was nonchalant even flippant at times about the whole alleged "most incredible experience of my life" that was just around the corner. I knew intellectually that having a child would be transformational, but I did not expect it to deepen my emotional well so quickly. I arrived back at work proud, probably glowing, triumphantly carrying around a manila folder with Amari pictures from days three through six. I may as well have had them laminated, printed on a t-shirt, or tattooed on my forehead. I think I may have even shown them to a few people I'd never even spoken to before.

In fact, on my first outing earlier in the week I saw a student from the middle school at the grocery store and said, "Hey, look what I made," flashing my Amari cell phone wallpaper. Her mom gave me a who's-the-weirdo-talking-to-my-daughter look and asked, "Is she yours?" I then returned a what-kind-of-dumb-question-is-that look, wanting to say, "No, I just collect infant photos on my cell phone." Weirdo. I decided then that I would be more discerning about whom I boasted to. I quickly forgot I'd made that decision by the time I got to work on Thursday. People were great, loving, even kind enough to say that I didn't look very tired. I received cards and gifts and compliments and congratulations. I felt like it was my one week birthday.

I also received a backlog of news on students who had been struggling. Issues of school violence, suicide, and sexual abuse had me pining for the simplicity of the "Feed me, hold me, change me" problems I'd left at home. Frogs have much larger problems, but I'm convinced that many of them can still be addressed with tadpole solutions. As the Beatles wrote, "All we need is love," and food, and shelter, and some half decent parents.

When I saw Amari again that afternoon, she was still my little polliwog. She had on a new outfit, her eyes were more alert, and her hair was spiked in a fauxhawk, but other than that she appeared unchanged. I smiled at her, and I'm convinced she smiled back. Although some say that babies can't smile, that it's just gas, I prefer to believe they can because "What a beautiful smile" sounds much nicer than "What a beautiful expression of gastro-intestinal discomfort." That's an un-poetic mouthful. After a traumatic and mandatory trip to the hospital for Amari's first blood test - a topic for a future, less nostalgic blog - we returned to our glass jar with the holes on top to watch our baby morph.

At ten o'clock I was on our back porch trying to lull Amari to sleep. The frost I'd watch dissolve that morning was reforming at the foot of the steps and a much colder mist was hovering nearby. Amari was swaddled tightly in a soft, cotton blanket, hat pulled down over her ears, eyes still wide open. I swayed her back and forth, dancing to the best of my ability, combining the "Five S's" I'd read about to activate her calming reflex. Swadle, sway, suck, side, shhhhhh. Swadle, sway, suck, side, shhhh. As it turns out, the forgotten sixth "S" is Singing - preferably popular '80's songs. For the next half hour, I hummed and sang Bobby McPheron's "Don't Worry, Be Happy." Sadly, I only know the first verse, but I sang it over and over and over again. Happily, Amari doesn't know that there are more verses or how to speak English, so she payed more attention to the vibrations coming from my chest as they resonated through her. Eventually, her eyes grew heavy and so did mine, and eventually we both went inside to get some sleep.

"Tomorrow," I said to myself, "Depeche Mode."


  1. My own personal Jesus! Babies--the post-punk accessory for the truly daring. You think going back to work is hard--try staying at home, trapped on the couch by a six-pound nipple clamp... that cries when removed! Even now, I'm typing one-handed, which is even more annoying than texting--yet still more decipherable. As the dishes and laundry pile up, exhaustion and a crying baby have reduced me to tears several times already--which is normal, right? RIGHT??? But perhaps the tide has turned--I woke up this morning and decided I'd have to go back to church because I had just experienced a miracle--Amari only woke up once all night and I actually slept seven hours! Stay tuned to see if it's truly a new era of sanity or if I completely lose it and am reduced to rocking back and forth on the floor in the fetal position--which would probably be very soothing for Amari.

  2. I just love how both of you account this amazing time. Forget about the laundry and dishes, Carrie. Just hug that nugget all she wants. It'll be too soon that she's rolling her eyes at you.
    What a lucky little girl she is.