Tuesday, November 11, 2008


I was in Philadelphia this weekend visiting friends on the other side of the gulf. For Sunday, the only full day I was to be in town, I had made plans to meet friends for two events: coffee at La Colombe followed by walking around in Center City, and early dinner at Pho '75.

For both events, the friends meeting us were about 45 minutes late. Under normal circumstances -- normal, in this case, being me pre-Ben, the me they're all used to (I moved away whole pregnant) -- no big deal. I might have noticed and been concerned about their safety or about confusion over location, but that's about it. With the baby in tow, though, those 45 minutes meant something else, something bigger, something I wouldn't ever expect them to be able to anticipate and so can't in any way blame them for not avoiding. Which is to say, I want to talk about it because it's an excellent example of the gulf, but I don't want any of the people involved (who constitute a significant proportion of my reading public) either to think I'm pissed off at them or to be pissed off at me.

So let me break it down. I want to be a calm person, capable of interaction and fun, and I want my kid to be happy and pleasant to be around. The best way -- in fact, the only way -- for that to happen is for the interaction to take place as soon as possible after A) a nap and B) a meal. From the moment the kid wakes up and comes off the nipple, the clock is ticking on his mood. The first hour is gravy: almost guaranteed great mood. Smiles, self-entertainment, total propaganda baby. He is at his most pleasant and, if even pleasant babies aren't your cup of tea, his most ignorable during this stage.

After an hour, things get iffy. Sometimes I can turn the crab around by nursing him, but nursing itself can make plenty of childless people uncomfortable, and my aim here is to make things more comfortable for all of us. After two hours, even if I've managed to nurse him, keeping the crab at bay requires active intervention: walking, bouncing, holding and retrieving toys, etc., and even those things may not work. And even if they do, I can't help but be aware that though he may be distracted from his discomfort, my kid is now uncomfortable.

If we're in public, especially in a place like a restaurant, where my kid pitching a fit has an impact on other people trying to enjoy themselves, I am constantly aware of the impending need to decamp suddenly, interrupting the meals of everybody in my party, if the crab becomes without warning a full-on hysterical scream-fest, the likelihood of which increases with every minute.

If it happens to be bedtime, then this kind of distraction and prolonging of wakefulness is also just about guaranteeing that he's not going to fall asleep easily, or sleep well -- which means I may not have the two or three hours of evening freedom his early bedtime allows me, nor the luxurious four-hour stretches of sleep between feedings that come with undisturbed sleep for him.

So the bottom line is those 45 minutes bit a significant chunk out of my ability both to enjoy those visits and to be myself enjoyable.

All of this is hardly news to anyone who has ever parented a five-month-old. And none of it would have occurred to me before I had one myself. And more than that, even after hearing the (tedious) explanation, I'm not at all sure that my reaction wouldn't have been a little impatient and judgey: uptight parent, can't just go with the flow a little, what a drag. Which is exactly what I don't want my friends to think I've become, which is exactly why I picked times and places carefully and shaped naptimes and nursings as best I could to avoid a situation in which I would have to become uptight parent who can't go with the flow. What a drag.

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