The Byford Files

The Crying Game

When Baby Ellison entered the world, she shattered eardrums. Girl could scream with the best of ’em. I remember thinking how beautiful of a sound it was. You know, all those things that people say. “It was the sweetest sound I’ve ever heard.” “I just started crying from being so happy.” Yeah, it was heavy stuff. The other beauty of a crying baby is that it means she’s healthy, aware. She’s pissed off and rightfully so. She should be. She’s had her hot tub drained and then spent hours getting squeezed with the force of a healthy sphincter all to end with being pried out by some guy named Miles into a loud and bright operating room that’s about thirty degrees colder than where she’s spent the last nine months all cozy and cooled out as a freaking amphibian. Imagine that’s good reason to belt out a crazy scream.

And then she slept.

She slept through almost everything. Remember, this girl was just under three weeks early. It’s like she was awakened, smacked around for a bit, adjusted and went right back to a deep womb-like sleep. I remember thinking, “Man, this is some easy cheese. This girl sleeps all the time.” When people asked how she was doing, instead of giving them an adjective, I’d return with, “Sleeping.” That was my way of saying, “I’m not sure, but she’s sleeping. I imagine pretty well.” Eighteen days went by and then we hit her original due date, September 27th.

…and the game done changed.

She went from being Baby Ellison the Dreamer to Baby Robert Plant. Vocalizing has become an almost every quarter-hour biz. She hovers somewhere between eight stages that I can determine.

Firstly, there’s the SNORT |snôrt|which is achieved primarily by quickly passing air through the nasal cavity. Sometimes it sounds like she’s suffocating or choking. And, apparently the universal sign for choking hasn’t been explained to them so you stand there wondering if things are taking a turn for the worse and then you hear a GRUNT |grənt|.

The grunt is a short harmless burst of found that comes from her lower throat. Kin to the groan, it’s a sound that can be easily achieved with a binky in her mouth. At times, it sounds like James Brown and other times it sounds as if she got punched in the gut. They usually come in handfuls…maybe five to seven at a time. She does it in her sleep. Altogether, not much of a reason to worry. You can sleep through it if you don’t have a monitor projecting every murmur or groan into your inner ear in the other room.

That is unless the grunt develops into the FUSS |fəs| which is almost a sustained grunt. It’s as if she’s singing using a grunt. The fuss or “fussiness” as it’s often to referred to as is likely to get you out of bed. And sometimes there’s just nothing wrong. The girl’s just playing games with you. This stage is difficult to ignore because depending on your baby’s abilities, it can light up the whole house. And it sounds like something’s terribly wrong, but you won’t be able to get to the bottom of it (writer’s note: just put on Bob Marley for her during our morning listening session, “No Woman, No Cry” and girl is out like a lamp…no baby, no cry). Could be gas, could be a loaded diaper, could be temperature, could be hunger, could be the fact that her feet are covered and, like her daddy, she don’t like that.

The fuss is just the precursor, though, to the SHRILL | shril|. It’s also known as the the “squeal.” It is a high-pitched and damn-near deafening tone. Normally, Baby Ellison can only accomplish it for a fraction of a second and it’s at relatively low volume, but it’s powerful and, if she’s on your shoulder positioned directly next to your ear, it could be potentially dangerous.

Some babies bypass the shrill and instead opt for the WHINE |(h)wīn|, where the baby can cry with her mouth almost closed but her eyes open. The whine is probably the closest that a baby can achieve to reasonable communication. It’s as if she’s talking to you or singing to you. A tad annoying, but whaddya gon’ do, she’s like a caveman at this point.

The whine can take a turn for the worse, though, if it turns the corner grows into the CRY |krī|. The cry is commonly misused as a term. Sometimes, people use the word “cry” to describe the shrill, the whine and even the fuss. The cry those is a full-fledged whine but now with the eyes closed and the mouth open. Don’t grab a Kleenex because this cry doesn’t come with tears. Her body is still visibly relaxed. She’s not tense. She doesn’t appear to be in any sort of physical pain. The cry, however, goes on for longer periods of time, in fact, babies can cry forever. They can. The cry is at a level of exertion and energy that babies can carry like a marathoner. Babies cry for a number of unexplainable reasons. If you’re ever going to teeter on the verge of insanity, the cry might be the level that drives you there. It’d be easy if you discover what was causing the crying, but you can’t. You won’t. This is the stage that they discuss on the Today Show trying to discover what the cause is. It’s not quite curing cancer, but you’d hold the keys to the kingdom if you could discover how to cure a crying baby. It’d be like the smokeless ashtray or velcro. Truth is no one really knows. Adults, moreover men, have this thought they can fix anything and the fact that you can’t fix a crying baby makes you wanna punch yourself in the face repeatedly. It’s not a leaky faucet. Nope, that’d be tremendously easier. The crying baby takes tons of patience to endure. If you’ve ever heard comments like, “I’ve never shaken our baby, but man, you can see why they warn you,” it’s because of the crying stage.

And if you’re among the unfortunate ones, that cry can quickly transform into its more volatile and explosive cousin, the SCREAM |skrēm|. The scream is just as you would imagine. It’s a powerful and deeply painful sounding cry. It’s characterized by the inability to calm even with a father in your ear saying things like, “It’s okay, baby. It’s okay” and administering a series of “shhhhhhs.” She won’t hear any of it because her own voice is so deafening at this point. Anything you do only prolongs the scream. At this point, you’re a long way from Meredith Viera. She can’t help you at this point. Attempting to hold her only aggravates it. But there’s a level even more intense than screaming. Oh yeah. Few babies can go here. Even fewer parents survive it without going into complete insanity. The kinda insanity where you forget to put on pants before going to work or haven’t shaved or brushed your teeth for weeks at a time because you’ve completely lost your marbles.

If you were ever going to suspect demonic possession, it’s be because of the WAIL |wāl| (but seriously, if your baby begins to levitate or speak perfect latin, seek the consultation of a priest immediately). The wail can strip paint. Your baby, in this stage, is screaming so loudly that it doesn’t just pierce the eardrum, it absolutely annihilates them. She’ll be screaming with her entire body arched and just the back of her head and her two heels will be touching the mattress. She’ll wail until she loses her breath. It’s a powerful thing to witness, actually. Just do it with earplugs or you’ll never be able to hear a normal conversational voice again. Parents that experience this eighth and most severe stage rarely come back the same person.

…to be continued…like crying, there’s more where this came from.

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