Day Four: Wherein I Learn For The First Time What Fear Truly Is
This week, Joel Warner gives us some insight as to what it's like to be a part-time stay-at-home dad and a full-time neurotic obessessive with fantasies of prehistoric predators eating his young. Read his feature about the baby products industry here.
The doctor’s office doesn’t scare me. I’ve been going there my whole life without a tremor. Strip me to my skivvies and stick a needle in my arm – I can take it. Sure, there was that one time a hospital physician in New Hampshire nearly gave me gangrene, but that’s New Hampshire, for Christ’s sake. You can’t trust those dirty townies.
Today, however, as I drove to the doctor’s office, I would have curled up into the fetal position if not for the fact I had to keep my hands on the wheel. After all, this wasn’t a visit about me, it was about my son.
My four-month-old son wasn’t sick; this was a routine check-up. So far he’s been amazingly healthy. (After writing that sentence, I ran around the house, knocking on every piece of wood I could find, and then ordered some more knockable wood from HomeDepot.com just to be safe.) There is no reason he should be so lucky. We have a cat who likes nothing better than to wrap his entire body around our son’s face, preferably right after he’s spent a good amount of time in his litter box. And I’m sure I’m always pressing too hard on the soft spot on the crown my son’s head, which, if I understand the medical literature correctly, is sort of like hitting the “reset” on an iPod.
Thankfully, my son is no worse for wear – but that didn’t make me feel much better on the way to the doctor. The way I see it, every baby is a ticking time bomb. I know this for a fact; my wife is what’s called an infant mental health therapist. This means that she is expertly, intimately acquainted with every single way we can mess him up. And trust me, there are a lot of ways. She’s shown me the official list. Trumping all my fears is something called Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. This is the scariest fucking thing of all time. Essentially, this is when an ostensibly 100-percent healthy baby terribly, horrifically, passes away. Doctors are baffled by the phenomenon; the cause of it seems to be the act of being a baby. I’m no expert, but that seems just wrong. You can’t put a Surgeon General’s warning on a state of existence. Last I heard, there is no “Sudden Tween Death Syndrome or “Sudden Mid-thirties Death Syndrome.” Somebody needs to take this “Sudden Infant Death Syndrome” thing back. Please.
My neurosis isn’t helped by the fact that there is an entire segment of the population whose sole point of existence is to tell us parents we are doing everything absolutely wrong. Google “child vaccines,” “breastfeeding” or “circumcision.” Go ahead, I dare you. You’ll quickly realize that every single person involved in these debates, on all sides, is utterly insane. According to them, no matter what you do with your kid, you’re screwed. If you vaccinate your children, they will undoubtedly get a dose of bovine growth hormones, but if you don’t, you will single-handedly bring back Polio. If you breastfeed your child in public, you will forever traumatize everyone around you, all of whom for some reason have never seen a boob before, but if you instead opt for baby formula, you will be depriving your progeny of any sort of nutritional and emotional sustenance at all, and she will indubitably grow up to be Dick Cheney. Finally, if you decide to circumcise your baby boy, you are akin to a medieval inquisitor and will have physically and emotionally mutilated your son for life, though if you don’t circumcise, he will surely end up in Africa with AIDS.
Some members of our extended family are part of this nationwide conspiracy to turn me and my wife insane. “You’re holding him too much,” they tell us. What? We’re holding him too much? Who says such things? Are we going to leave behind permanent thumb prints?
Needless to say, by the time we reached the doctor’s office, I was reduced to a blathering idiot, ready to hand my son over to the authorities for proper safe-keeping for the next, say, 30 years. Thankfully, the doctor was an expert in dealing with what I shall call “Sudden Parent Psychosis Syndrome.” Our baby’s doing great, he told us. Medically and emotionally, he’s hitting all the benchmarks. No, we’re not holding him too much, he assured us. There are no thumb prints; I made him check twice. Our son is happy and healthy and, damn, one cut looking baby. All in all, he said with a smile, we are doing everything exactly right.
I knew it all along. – Joel Warner