Wherein Ian compares raising an infant to life in a concentration camp.
I write these words with one hand—but don’t worry, it’s my right hand! The other is holding a bottle for the bundle of love propped up on my satyr’s legs, a child in a retrospective mood that often comes over him when he’s given the chance to chug a nice fat 160 milliliters of goatmilk down his little baby gullet, which more often than not returns the favor by forcing out frequent irruptions of warm half-curdled goatcream back onto his most cherubic cheeks. Sometimes it even oozes down my back and splashes the beautiful crimson dyes of the carpet I bought from a very talkative Belgian woman in the Turkish city of Selcuk.
I will never forget how she took the money, kissed it, pressed it to her forehead, and then placed it on the floor—or something to that effect, honestly I cannot remember the particulars—because it was the first sale of the day, and only by partaking in a local superstition like this can you hope that the money will grow before the sun sinks down beneath the bleached marble ruins that attracted me to those mountains, forests, and olive groves, in the first place.
A bare-floor loving people, every Korean I have met despises this carpet with the most savage intensity, and is often reduced to the state of a spitting, snarling wolverine at the sight of an object which covers the featureless wooden floor. They conspire against it. Eyes flashing, their lips mumble plots involuntarily. They want to donate it to the subways and place it at the bottom of the escalators on rainy days. But I won’t give in. They’ll never get my Turkish carpet, no matter how dirty it gets, no matter how many times I have to scrub off the baby cream, no, not this carpet, no, no, no.
But now, after much labor, I have put the baby back to sleep. It is the greatest struggle of my life to do so. From the moment he wakes it is the sole object of all my endeavors, and requires spending several hours a day pacing the apartment with the baby propped up on my back, frequent lengthy milk guzzling sessions, diaper replacement, and sometimes as many as two hours of relentless play, during which time I must distend my feeble imagination to the utmost in order to entertain a person whose thoughts at the moment seem to be limited to “hungry”, “tired”, “bored”, “uncomfortable”, “this is fun”, “I need to burp or fart”, and “my diaper is full”. This person cannot move anywhere on his own. His dependence is absolute. He is a human larva. And if you make one false move—it’s all over.
My preconceptions of this reality largely govern it; I was not at my bravest when I first learned that my future wife-to-be was pregnant; but the truth is that he is not such a difficult baby and, actually, often rather pleasant. Nonetheless he devours time like a singularity. I’ll hear him moving in his enormous bed, I’ll check on him, and then by the time I get him back to sleep (after several false starts that require as many trips pacing the room with a hot, sweaty, and increasingly heavy bag of flesh in your arms) the clock will somehow show that two hours of sweet, precious freedom, have vanished into the child’s temporal maw forever.
How many words, how many pages, might have been written in that time…how many cities, adventures, whole nations!, might have sprung up from my fingers, running over the keyboard like a whole marathon’s worth of joggers! Instead the great, the stupendous Ian gives his time to burping a baby, that his wife may catch a break.
Coincidentally, I just happen to be devouring an excellent book, The Aquariums of Pyongyang, which is not really about aquariums at all (sorry aquariumophiles), but actually the experience of a North Korean child who spent much of his youth in a concentration camp. I cannot help but compare his situation to my own. They are not so dissimilar (actually they are completely different), but the experience of spending hours of your day unable to make the slightest sound—creeping on tiptoe, terrified of opening the fridge (which of course creaks like an ungreased grannie whenever you touch it), of putting ear-shattering ice in your coffee, of moving, of thinking—this, I imagine, is not so different from life in a concentration camp, at least one where the guards are babies with kalashnikovs slung over their backs—and the odd thing about it is that you actually find yourself making incredible amounts of noise even as you struggle to minimize your presence as much as possible. You would think I was blind drunk, swinging around this place like an ape, stumbling over everything like a madman, knocking over every table, chair, fan, like a billowing hurricane.
But the baby sleeps, I relax, and think to myself, thank god, this is so nice, this is so pleasant, nothing could be better than the brief opportunity to be an irresponsible adult again, let’s celebrate with a nice sip of coffee, let’s get drunk, let’s shoot some cocaine, let’s go whoring, let’s shout racist epithets at random people—and then my clumsy butterfingers stumble against it, the nice wavy celadon coffee cup, the ceramic creaks against the hardwood floor (beloved of all Koreans from Dangun Wanggeom on down), and my terrified vision shoots over to the baby instantly—where, right on time, he stirs, sucks on his pacifier with the exact same kissing squeaks as the baby from The Simpsons, and then in the greatest moment of suspense and strain, spits the pacifier out.
My plans collapse. It’s all over. I’m finished. I had two, three minutes to myself. But now the rest of the morning must go to soothing the baby’s urges, a fresh wave of goatmilk, burps, feces, vomit, and peekaboo, while my mind, so desperate to sprint over the elysian fields of intellectual endeavor, must wither at the sight of his adorable smile, and his warm, green-black-blue-gray eyes.