My husband, lying on the couch with our son napping on him, just asked me for a foot rub. Sure, I handled the 2 a.m. feeding and have been awake since the 5 a.m. gas attack, but it’s okay, let me rub your feet. I’ll just continue letting my insoles rub my tired tootsies. After all, having a baby who has been fed and changed nap on you is hard work.
Two days after he returned to work, my husband, for whom fatherhood had instantly become his number one job, goal, and beloved obsession, stomped down the stairs in utter frustration.
“I’m going to duct-tape that pacifier to his mouth,” he growled. The goal, to put our son to bed, turned into an hour-long game of pacifier wars. For those unfamiliar, pacifier wars entail your baby taking the pacifier, falling asleep, then waking up in sheer panic because the pacifier popped out of his mouth. Rinse and repeat and you get the deal.
I simply laughed. “One hour and he broke you. I deal with this kind of stuff all day.”
To his credit my husband has been an amazing father. Totally dedicated, he was the first to do a diaper change, first to bottle feed, first to bathe. When we arrived home and laid our newborn on the changing table (that his father had crafted) for the first time, my husband stared at him with intense concentration.
“Honey, are you okay?” I asked. “You look like you’re trying to figure out how to manage the biggest project of your life.”
“I am!” he replied in all seriousness. Trust me, this guy is into fatherhood.
That being said, he doesn’t have a mother’s intuition.
The first time I noticed this was when our son would cry after eating. “I’m not giving him any more than the hospital said we should!” my husband declared. After all, it was logical to follow doctor recommendations, right?
Wrong. “He’s hungry. Feed him,” I simply replied. And it worked.
After playing pacifier wars for a few nights my husband growled, “This is why people only have one child!” I laughed and told him to let the baby cry.
“Do you think I spend all day popping that thing back into his mouth? He’ll cry for three minutes and get over it.” And he did.
My husband is getting better at troubleshooting the crying that I can pretty much recognize right off the bat. Sure, there’s hungry, and sometimes poopy (it’s amazing how much babies enjoy sitting in a warm mess), but tired is my favorite. It’s this high-pitched half squeal that just sounds so exhausted. As he’s puttering out his jaw quivers just slightly and he looks like Mr. Magoo, an aggravated old man who doesn’t have the energy to chase the kids down the block, so he just shakes his fist and returns to reruns of Matlock. I take joy in this because even though I won’t be around, I already know what he’ll look like when he’s old.
The worst is the pain cry. I first heard it at his bris, the ritual circumcision performed on his 8th day of life. It was awful. As my insides twisted into a ball of physical and emotional torture I suddenly understood what it meant to be a mother. Immediately, I asked God to forgive me for any time I caused my own mom to suffer.
He doesn’t just belt out whines of agony like that for physical pain, either. After a tiring few weeks my husband suggested his mother come over for the day to spend time with the baby and give me a chance to catch up on some things. She played with him, fed him, and did her best to rock this non-napper to sleep. Meanwhile, I ran around the house like a madwoman doing laundry and cleaning my kitchen. A few hours later I heard the cry and instantaneously my stomach twisted. I wanted to cry, too. That’s when I knew something was wrong.
It turns out that the only thing wrong was that I wasn’t right there. He wasn’t crying for his grandmother, or for his father who had come home early that day. He would only be consoled by my presence, my voice, my touch. So, console I did and the smiles returned once again.
“Sometimes I just don’t understand him,” my husband will remark in frustration from time to time.
“You’re not going to,” I explained. “He’s a soul trapped in a body without an instruction manual. He’s still trying to figure out his new machine and get it to work correctly. Some things you may never understand about him, even when he can talk. But the bottom line is that you know him.”
That’s the difference between a father and a mother. Fathers seek to understand, comprehend, and figure out their children like projects or machines. Its how the male mind works. Mothers just know. Call it gut instinct, call it intrinsic spirituality, the bottom line is that our unique gift is a visceral connection to our baby that transcends everything from logic to recommended best practices. Let everyone else worry about understanding. A mother’s job is to know her child. And sometimes this knowing is all they need.
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