So, now that we have an understanding of the rules of engagement and the different weapons that a baby can use against your psyche, we must now decide how, as parental units, we’ll defend ourselves. And, no, shaking, smacking, spanking or any other physical defense is not acceptable. Your options of defense are 1) ignore, 2) pacify or 3) swing into action.
I’d first start off by mentioning that my lovely wife and I agreed to not buy a baby monitor because we wanted to see how loud this girl was first before we put an amplifier right next to our sleeping heads and, well, we don’t live in a mansion. She’s right down the hall. You can rest assured that you’ll hear the biggies and likely miss everything else in between. I must note, however, that my lovely wife mentioned that she heard her crying in the middle of the night and I can guarantee you that the Ellison was not crying. My lovely wife is hearing things. It’s an auditory hallucination resulting from over-stimulation. I’m not hearing crying when there is none…yet. Living without a monitor requires you to be keen to your senses. As a guy that hasn’t been really good to my hearing over the years, it can be a little difficult but I gotta suck it up. I’m not eighty and deaf yet. I mention the monitor because it’s important to note that we don’t do anything for snorts and grunts because, well, we likely would never hear them. It’s not that we’re choosing to not react.
Let’s assume, in all cases, that you’re in an awake state. Awake and slightly aware depending on your level of fatigue at this point. The rules of the game require one or two fatigued adults on the verge of emotional and psychological breakdown and one energetic infant. We got real life worries as adults. All a baby has to do is eat, crap her drawers and then cry about it. Naturally, this puts you at an incredible disadvantage.
Let’s start with the two lowest levels of irritant. That’d be the SNORT and the GRUNT. While long-term exposure to these sounds can be, indeed, highly annoying, do not give them merit by reacting to them. Just ignore them. Your tendency as a new parent will be to react to every little noise. To speculate that your child might be dying on your watch. These noises can be a little unsettling, but they’re altogether harmless. If you’re concerned about whether or not your baby is in any danger, look for visible signs: blue around the lips, she’s not breathing, she’s not moving, she’s limp, she’s stiff. If you’re judging by sound alone, you’re likely to be an absolute wreck for the first two to three months. Relax, let ’em slide.
That brings us to the more ambiguous FUSS. The fuss is simply a pout. It’s a vocal recognition of, often, some sort of physical discomfort. There’s some sort of outside influence that’s causing this. In most cases, they’re non-emergencies, but the fuss is a spirited noise that she can carry on for a while. It’s best to first judge from afar whether or not there’s anything wrong or if she’s just nagging. The fuss is the lowest level of exertion that receives the highest amount of reaction from parents. My advice is a hybrid reaction between ignoring her for about three minutes and then pacify. Pacifying is something that we’re trying to use sparingly, but just because she’s using a pacifier to relax doesn’t mean she’s on a road to ruin, she’ll drop out of high school and end up assembling lampshades for a living. It doesn’t make you a bad parent. Pacifying will usually be effective at this stage because it acts as a diversion to her irritant. There are some things, though that pacifying can’t help out with. Like, say, hunger, having a full diaper pressed against your body or a full gastrointestinal system full of gas. If she’s still fussing even with the paci, then it’s your first opportunity to swing into action. Feed her, burp her, rock her, change that stinky diaper full of pea soup.
Interestingly enough, the SHRILL and the WHINE, while a bit louder and more insistent than the fuss, are even more idle and harmless. They’re short-lived. The shrill will make you jump to your feet like a silverback gorilla is kidnapping her from the crib, but she’s fine. It’s an outburst. The whine is fuss times two. I’ve found with Ellison, while they’re both more intense than the fuss, these two stages usually means that she’s just on the verge of passing out and enjoying a nice long nap. Ignore this unless you find differently of your little one.
The CRY stage is where the panic begins to set in. And over-exposure to panic is what causes frayed nerves, sleepless nights, showing up to work without any pants on, using inaudible noises to communicate to friends, heavy drinking, unreasonable outbursts…so remain calm. No one said this was going to be easy and just remember that what you’re going through MILLIONS OF PEOPLE GO THROUGH ON A DAILY BASIS. In fact, you could likely walk three doors down and find someone going through the same thing at that very moment. You are not alone. Be the rational rock in the situation. Pace yourself because it could be a 13-round bout. Your starting point should not be to pacify. If you can, aurally go to a happy place. Sing “Good Day Sunshine” or “Mellow Yellow” to yourself. Find some anchor besides the insistent crying. Once you establish that, it’s time to go ahead and jump into Sherlock mode. Inspect the diaper. When was the last time she was fed? How’s the air temperature? Be prepared for the disappointment of never figuring it out and, in the meantime, the baby being reduced to the whimper just from fatigue alone. It’s bittersweet because the immediate threat is gone, but in knowing that you didn’t solve it, you know that the cry’s gonna return and, once again, you’ll have no clue what to do. Try music. Try singing to her. Try “shhhhh”-ing in her ear. Try reading her a story. Try tossing her a stroller and taking her around the block. But don’t give up. Lying in the other room and trying to ignore this is futile. You’ll lose your mind long before you successfully ignore her into a comfortable slumber. The cry is like a Royce Gracie choke hold–“waiting it out” might not bode well for you. My method is probably different from my lovely wife’s method. I don’t know only because, well, we’re never both trying to quell her at the same time. We tag team it. Mine is five-point inspection of sorts. I start with 1) pick her up and hold her, walk around with her, bounce her a little, see if simply picking her up and giving her the change of venue helps relax her. We have a Cradle N Swing which is a huge contraption that swings the baby and it seems to work pretty well. If not, move of 2) audible stimulation. I begin to hum something. It’s usually a hybrid between some ol’ church hymn and Gershwin. It’s becoming less and less effective. I think that once she heard the Ohio Players, everything’s pale in comparison. It was the same experience for me. If neither one or two work, I move to 3) diaper check. This requires you to disrobe her and do the little “peek-in” which is sometimes a dangerous operation. You take one finger and pull back a portion of the under-side of the diaper and inspect for the mighty poopie. If you don’t see that, grab the outside the diaper and give a nice squeeze. You know if she loaded that thing with her own urine because it’ll feel squishy. It’ll feel heavy. If the diaper check and change doesn’t alleviate the crying, move to 4) feeding. Unless she’s already eaten, this will probably help bring it down a notch. If for no other reason, at least for the simple fact that it’s damned hard to cry with a wet nipple in your mouth (ayo!). If after feeding, there’s still no relief, you move swiftly into 5) gas relief. Burp that kiddo. Over the shoulder, in your hand, use the drops, push her legs up towards her head, rub her chest. Do what you can to have her bust some gas out. And, yes, farting helps. If she farts in your hand, celebrate it. Cool with the kid does it. Not so cool when a supervisor does it. If none of those work, then you pacify. Let your lovely wife try her magic and see if she put her down like Paul Hogan dropping a 1500-pound water buffalo.
Crap, I think Bob Marley’s “Stir It Up” is among the greatest lullabies ever. It just dropped Ellison into a deep sleep in less than three minutes. Make a note.
If, by chance, your baby stepped her game up and has moved to SCREAM, you’ll find yourself at a loss of action. You’ll be in the other room not wondering if she was kidnapped by a silverback gorilla, but has instead turned into the silverback gorilla herself. Once it hits this stage, your goal is not to quiet her, but to just get her back to a cry. Don’t try and be Superman. Get her back down to a cry and then move into your cry actions. You’re gonna freak out though hearing her scream. I feared that if she kept screaming like that, she’s permanently drop her voice down to a bourbon-swigging, chain-smoking FM radio DJ growl. Like she’d be 8 years old and sound like Wolfman Jack because I failed to keep her from screaming her hair outta her head. Yes, the scream is much crazier and freakier than the cry, but remember that you’re just trying to get her back down to a cry. Once you get her there, it’s manageable.
The WAIL is unquestionably the ultimate test of your Harvey Keitel coolness. The wail rarely even sounds human. You won’t know whether to grab a pacifier, a burp cloth or a freaking harpoon. A few minutes of exposure to the wail and your bowels will begin to loosen, you’ll soil your shirt from the sweat, you’ll draw a bloody nose. This stage is as painful as it gets. I remember when my nephew was two months old and my brother and his wife Sarah asked us to look over him as they went to Christmas Eve service at the church. About thirty minutes into the evening, this kid makes a beeline directly to the wail. I run into the room and fling the door open and my jaw drops like Ellen Burstyn in The Exorcist.
I remember being truly frightened. I though the was going to die on our watch. He was wailing so hard that his whole body was lifting off the mattress except for the back of his head and the heels of his feet. His tongue was wagging back and forth in his head. The sound brought on instant sweat, maybe even tears. I col’ freaked out. This stage takes the kinda performance that only professional athletes possess, I’m convinced. When you hear about “big game” players who can silence the crowd in their head, detach themselves from the anxiety of the situation and col’ get the job done, that’s what this takes. That night, I was like Hideki Okajima. I went in, stared death itself in the face and shuddered. I retreated to the other room, yelling at my lovely wife, “I don’t know what’s going on! He’s dying!” She swept in, went in and I sat down on the couch, rocking myself back down out of my frenzy. She must’ve been in there for thirty minutes or so returning from a quiet room with a coy smirk on her face. Don’t know what happened in there, but girl stepped her game up right then and there. I’m convinced that, whatever you do here, the emphasis is doing for longer than the baby can. It’s an endurance test. The wail doesn’t fall to a scream and then to a cry in just five minutes. This stage takes a special performance of exceptional endurance and coolness. It’s not a sprint. Take your time. Whatever you do, get ready to do it for half an hour or more.
As I type this, I took a fussy Ellison to a dreamstate with no hands and Bob Marley. Time to rediscover Bob Marley. Wonder if the same effect can be achieved with all reggae. Bob Marley’s good, but just a little too commonplace. A little too safe for me. I want Ellison to be one of those kids who says, “Bob Marley’s alright, but I’m more of a King Tubby girl.” Yeah, playground music snobbery at its finest. Another installment of “Girls are Cool” coming tomorrow.