Sometimes I wish everybody had a DEFCON warning system displayed on their shirt.
For those unfamiliar, DEFCON is an alert system the U.S. military uses. It communicates the level of readiness needed to match a perceived aggression.
If we all wore our DEFCON meters it could help me know when to keep my head down. “Do not go into accounting right now unless you want your head chewed off. They’re at DEFCON 1.” But it might also help me know when to take care of myself. “Oh wow, it looks like I’m at DEFCON 3. Maybe I better go for a run before I continue this conversation with my wife.”
But then again, sometimes I don’t think even a DEFCON meter would help…
One evening I was taking care of my five-month-old son while my wife taught a night course at a local community college.
I gave my son a bath, read him stories, gave him a bottle of breast milk, and then put him to sleep. I was proud of myself for my fine work as a parent. I was sick of the movies and TV shows that portray dads as clueless and bumbling fools.
Every day I was determined to nip this stereotype in the bud.
After 30 minutes of sleeping soundly, my son began to cry softly in his crib…
No big deal. I’ve done this dozens of times. I ran to the fridge and grabbed a bottle of breast milk. Only…….there was no milk. My son’s cries grew louder. I looked in the freezer. No milk. What??!! No milk?!! WE ARE OUT OF MILK!!!
Somehow it had completely escaped my attention that we were low on milk. My son’s cries grew louder as his patience (hahaha…”patience”…hahahaha) was waning.
OK, no worries. We bought a box of formula in case an emergency like this should arise. I popped the lid open to reveal a childproof seal. It works well on adults too apparently. Finally I busted it open. I may have used a power drill. I’m not sure.
I peered inside the container and saw the powdered formula. Now what? I should have read the directions earlier. How much water do I add? Do I heat it up? Stir it? Shake it? OK, it’s not a martini for goodness sakes, just put some powder in a bottle with water!
I poured some formula into a bottle and a scooper fell out. Ohhhhh! That’s how I measure it. I quickly mixed the formula and ran into my son’s room with the bottle. He took one sip of the formula and threw his head back in absolute revulsion. He wanted breast milk, not this “poison.”
Ugg…Why didn’t I introduce formula to him earlier? With a look that could kill a small reptile, he began to suck in air. I could only assume what would follow: the loudest scream that had ever been attempted since the beginning of time. His inhale was like a black hole, pulling everything into his lungs. Discarded socks, blankets, everything that wasn’t tied down was sucked into this vortex. Luckily I held onto a nearby dresser.
Wait for it…(A scream of a thousand hyenas shrieked through the air)…there it is.
This is not a drill! I repeat, this is not a drill!
I tried rocking him, bouncing him, singing to him, pleading to him, and promising him I’d put more into his 529 College Savings Plan. Nothing stopped his flailing body and high-pitched cries of aggression. He was past the point of being pacified.
That gave me an idea. I tried his pacifier to see if that would help. Nothing. It just left a gummy taste in my mouth. I tried giving it to him too. That didn’t help either.
The realization hit me that my wife wouldn’t be home for another couple of hours. Keep it together, Lucas. Don’t panic! Well…don’t panic more than you already are.
I felt so worthless seeing my son crying and not knowing how to help. I began to call everybody I knew who had a baby or knew about babies or had seen a baby on TV. Maybe somebody could help me think.
Nobody answered. It was late at night so most people were asleep. Out of desperation, I called my mom who lived three time zones east of me. It was after midnight but she answered.
She listened to my panicked explanation and declaration of a DEFCON 1. She patiently walked me through several suggestions, including putting in a baby music DVD that she sent me earlier to see if it would distract him.
I thanked her and hung up. I tried most of the suggestions but to no avail. I worried about putting in the DVD because the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend no screen time before a child is 2. I wanted to be a perfect parent so bad!
I looked at my son who was pleading at me to help him.
OK, screw it. I put in the DVD…
He instantly stopped crying.
On the TV a disturbing monkey puppet clanging a pair of cymbals together spun around on its wheels and rolled off the screen. Cut to a train going through a tunnel. Cut to a balloon floating up to the sky. Cut to a rain drop in a bucket. I was having trouble following the story line. Who was the protagonist? Was it the monkey? Was he late for his train? Were the rain drops symbols of his sorrow over losing his balloon?
My son, on the other hand, was having no misgivings about the film. He was entranced by what you would think from his expression was an Academy Award winning film.
Thank you God for this wonderful DVD that might also be rotting our brains.
My mom called back and wanted to know how it went. I told her the good news: my son was standing down. It looked like we were going to make it after all.
But I wasn’t the perfect dad I wanted to be. “Mom, I should have introduced the formula to him sooner. I should have tried the DVD before he got hysterical.”
My mom said calmly, “Sometimes these things happen, despite our best efforts. All we can do is do our best. Believe me, I know. Your dad and I went through almost the same thing you did tonight when you were a baby.” She added, “And I think you did an amazing job tonight.”
She paused to let me respond. Tears streamed down my face. It was quiet, except for the bird riding the squeaky bicycle across the TV screen.
My wife came running through the door, “I came home as soon as I could!”
“I have to go mom, thanks!” I said as I hung up the phone.
My wife had ended class early after she received my “DEFCON 1” text. My son looked up from the screen where a dog was chasing his tail and smiled at my wife as if to say, “What’s all the commotion momma? We’ve been having a great time tonight.”
The monkey with the cymbals came across the screen as the song ended. Ahh…so it was about the monkey all along. It cuts to a bunny wearing a tie as the screen fades to black. What? Where did the bunny come from?
There was no way around it – the DVD was a hot mess. But my son didn’t mind. He was fine with a little craziness. In fact, somehow he found a lot of joy in it all.
I hoped someday I could too.