So the dreaded moment has come—the newborn baby has arrived at our house and is sleeping in his enormous Korean bed/crib/inflatable tub/potential fortress, which is large enough for two adults to lie in side-by-side. It even came with two bent poles that we can set up as a tent for hanging those ringing chandeliers you always see dangling over the blurry visions of babies in films or, more importantly, for mosquito netting, but we haven’t set them up yet.
I want to say that most men are afraid of screaming babies, because I know damn well that I am. Nothing stresses me out like the sight of our poor son flushed to the color of blood, flexing every muscle in his face in a contortion of agony, jerking his legs and arms up and down like they’ve been loaded with springs. And I’ve had to take four breaks from writing these paragraphs because the boy has an unbelievable metabolism and a very healthy, glass-shattering shriek, downing about fifty milliliters of milk every half hour or so, and shitting his diapers full of curry-colored orange cake every other half hour. Already the science of poopology fascinates me, as well as the science of child-rearing.
I’ve been handling him almost totally alone for the last five hours, and I am, as they say, “getting the hang of it”, at least for the moment. Wailing babies are terrifying, but the satisfaction of calming him down successfully, changing his diaper, swaddling him, getting him his milk, and then throwing some Pavlovian psychology into the mix—I play Guns N’ Roses when he’s relaxing, a band I haven’t listened to since I was my son’s age, when the song Sweet Child O’ Mine apparently soothed me during my own fits of Rabelaisian gluttony—the satisfaction of all of this does indeed outweigh the frustration, exhaustion, and terror. Those emotions certainly exist, and all of them are really stressing both my wife and I out, but this is a great learning experience, and we are adapting as quickly as the Borg.
And I’ve had no choice but to adapt. Part of me believed that having a child would force my mind and body into a state of endless languishing torpor, where I would grow as hopelessly obese as an American and lose interest in anything except staring at a television during my rare moments of freedom from wage slavery and child care. Not so. Not yet, anyway. That exemplary destiny of fat twilight and dumb purgatory may still await me if this boy really truly burns me out, but for now I think I am making progress, facing my fear of hysterical infants, and overcoming it.
‘Twas not always so. Harry has been home for about three days now, and yesterday morning when I had some time to myself in a state of semi-exhaustion on the long train ride to Sasang, my thoughts flew to the Buddha, who abandoned his first child after naming him something like “Shackle” or “Burden” or other; Leo Tolstoy, who only took an interest in his fifteen or twenty children after they were infants, leaving them with his wife and servants until then; and Don Delillo, one of those famous unread authors writing in a style that is so plain it is practically tasteless, put together a good short story awhile back for the New Yorker that involved two exhausted parents stumbling around in a dark kitchen as their twin babies howled through the passing months. Loss of life and liberty. Formless hopelessness.
Only when I had a little more energy a few hours later did I consider the idea that I had to just not freak out when the baby cries. There’s the rub, recommended by my wife, who is far calmer under this immensest of pressures. God what things I could accomplish if I too could remain calm in the face of a caterwauling infant, if that sound could be my Pavlovian trigger for meditative bliss. A thousand drill sergeants spitting all kinds of filth in my face would put me to sleep like a lullaby. Novels would literally write themselves. Wings would sprout from my back. Rainbows would guide me to pots of leprechaun-guarded gold—so long as little Francois Rabelais was ready to blow a gasket.
He’s starting to writhe like a cocooned caterpillar again—I must away!