First Time Daddy
A Short Story For First Time Fathers
Propping open the aluminum screen door, I watch her walk away. I watch her shuffle down the slate path towards the open backdoor of the navy blue sedan. She blows kisses to the little man wrapped in the turquoise blanket in my folded arms and I watch her head drop below the edge of the open door before it closes.
I watch the car grow smaller and smaller as it speeds away. My attention falls to that little face as his chubby cheeks crumple like he’s chomping on a lemon. His mouth widening, he lets out such a shriek it knocks something loose between my ears and sends a tremor through my veins.
This is the big time--going solo, as they say. The little guy is four weeks old now and Mom deserves a girl’s night out. I knew it was coming, but I'd been dreading it. Before leaving, she had tried to fill my head with the things I might need to know. He gets a feeding at some time, he likes something somewhere, some numbers are on the fridge for police, yada-yada, poison control, maybe even a suicide hotline. But standing a foot from her I hadn’t heard a word. I just smiled and nodded, while my inner-monologue implored, you are not ready for this! Do not let her go!
The last thing she asked was, “Are you sure you’ll be alright?”
I force a wide smile, and said, “Honey, it’ll be find. Go on.”
“OK, bye.” She kissed the both of us on the cheek and took off, like a jack-rabbit in high-heels.
Backing out of the front door I watch the navy sedan dip out of view. I close our heavy wooden front-door and take a deep breath. Holding the baby close, he struggles and his screams vibrate through my chest. I turn and bolt up the hardwood staircase. I push through the nursery door to the changing table. As his cries continue, I lay him down gently supporting his head to the pad. I unsnap his green onesie that reads, “I Love Mommy,” and unfasten his Mickey Mouse diaper. Pulling back the flap reveals warm mushy peanut butter, and loads of it.
His arms and legs flail as I reach for the wipes. I should have grabbed his feet, but it hadn’t occurred to me until his heels splashed into the mess.
After an excessive use of wipes and a new diaper I have him as fresh as a daisy. Looking into his eyes I can almost read his thoughts. I imagine he’s thinking, you are not my Mommy and you can’t handle this storm . He’s a smart kid.
Clutching him in folded arms, I ease into the rocker to give him a ride. I rock until his eyes droop closed and his breathing slows. I keep the rhythm for about twenty more minutes watching his chest rise and fall. His eyes close, muscles go limp, and breathing slows, I ease up to the edge of the dark wooden crib and place him in like a blanket full of uranium. I back out of the room with caution half expecting a blood curdling scream, but thankfully silence wins out.
Getting the baby to sleep has my confidence brimming, so I reward myself with some relaxation time. Maybe the wife will come home to see me lounging on the couch like a lump. I’d get to say, “What? Of course he’s fine. What’s the big deal?”
That would have been great.
About thirty minutes later I hear his engines revving up. He hasn’t hit full speed yet, still just a sputtering cough--tears loading, limbs preparing to thrash.
I hop off the couch to the kitchen. A note on the fridge overlapping twenty or thirty meaningless magnets and forgotten pictures reads, “Feeding at 9:00PM.” My heart skips a beat. It’s only 8:00PM. I dart back to his crib-side arriving as his gears change up. With his eyes shut, mouth open, and face beet red, he wails.
Scooping him up, I return to my old friend the trusty rocker. I try forcing the pacifier, but that only slows him down. The engine stalls lurching and sputtering before he spits the pacifier out. I try snatching it from the air, but it’s too late. Seeing the yellow pacifier with blue dinosaurs in the plush carpet, I consider the five second rule, but he convinces me otherwise with a coughing-squealing-choking act.
Taking my feet, I use my pinky finger to silence him. It’s no use. It’s time to eat. I trot back downstairs, placing him quick and quiet in the playpen by the couch. The moment I turn my back on him, he opens up full throttle. Any bartender in the French Quarter of New Orleans would have been impressed with the efficiency I mixed up the bottle. I got back with the formula before he could begin belting out a second verse.
Afterwards, with a full tummy, he seems content. There is some whining and spit-up, but neither father nor son, are any worse for wear.
His eyelids droop a bit giving him a problem, but he doesn’t want to give in. I try laying him down, but he frowns showing me a warning of an impending tantrum. I know better by now than to test him, even though my arms and shoulders ache. I lean back into the couch pillows, allowing gravity to support him. He keeps me pinned down with his small arms draped around my ribs. His head hangs under my chin. I can’t see his face, but he’s quiet and his breathing is slow. I figure I’ll wait it out. Eventually, Mom will find us here.
My eyes are heavy and I begin drifting away. It’s the edge of sleep where vision and consciousness are blurred. A time when I remember all the things I’ve forgotten today, but I’m too groggy to do anything about it. A sensation of floating comes over me, like a serene journey.
Before I know it, my cloud is burst by a screaming rocket--an engine revving to full throttle. In my grogginess, I can’t register the sound only that it’s crawling under my skin and scraping my nerves. The fog in my head lifts. I clutch the boy to my chest making for the rocker. I charge up the stairs almost taking a header at the landing before pouncing into position in the rocker.
I pivot the chair, cupping him to me. His little body is stiff as a board, as he beats his free hand on my chest, screaming and gasping, like something is caught in his throat.I continue rocking and whisper “Shh” in his ear. I can’t be sure he’s hearing me. His wailing drowns out the hushes. My muscles tense and my blood boils.
I’ve never heard him like this before, and without his mother to sooth him. He sounds like he’s gasping for life while drowning underwater. He screeches between each desperate breath, as if it’s his last. His desperate communication tries to tell me something, but I can’t interpret. He’s been fed, changed and held, and now I’m all out of tricks. My gentle rocking has become furious and instead of “Shh” all I can get out is “ja-ja-ja”. I gaze into his contorted crumpled face, and exclaim, “What do you want?”
His response is a horrid expression that says to me, you don’t get it!
Nothing is working, and I can’t hold out for backup. My counter-intuition kicks in. I bring my careening rocker to a halt and take in all the oxygen I can. With slack I cradle the boy to my chest rocking like a spring breeze. I keep him close but give him enough room to flail. My breathing is deep and slow. I try thinking of other things, like playing, laughing, and fun. I imagine what it will be like as a grandfather, pushing a grandson on a swing, and busting a gut at this guy when he complains about the screaming-fits.
I let myself float away on a billowy white cloud. It’s larger than a bed and as soft as cat’s fur. It drifts at just the right pace through clear blue skies. Before I know it, my cloud is burst, but not by shrieks, but by quiet. I look down at plump cheeks and big round eyes.The heavy wooden front door cracks open, and I hear my wife’s wispy voice call out, “Hey, I’m home!”
I skip down the stairs cradling the boy in my arms. “Hi, honey,” I say.
“How’d everything go?” she says, her wide eyes leading a devious smile.
Glancing down on the little guy, he shines a smile up at me. “Fine,” I say. “Everything went fine.”