Instructional: Making the Most of Daddy-Baby Time

Christian Hayden
Issue No. 6 – December 2014

Begin by explaining to the baby that this is Daddy-Baby time! Inform the baby that Daddy-Baby time will be a thrice weekly event, four hours each session, while Mommy goes back to work at Dr. Aspen’s office.

Touch the baby’s palm and let its fingers curl around you like four little snakes. Scoop the baby up, parade it around, sing a song to both of you. Being alone with the baby is like being alone with the dog.

Tell the baby all your problems. Tell the baby about your company’s diminishing market share. Teach the baby about free-market capitalism. Take out your Ideas Notebook and draw the baby a diagram of the five forces of the market. Like the four horsemen of the apocalypse. With one left over. Famine, pestilence, war, death, and the bargaining power of suppliers.

Laugh with the baby. Five forces, four horsemen. So stupid. Plus it’s not the bargaining power of suppliers you’re worried about. It’s the threat of new entrants. Overseas entrants.

Explain to the baby about outsourcing. Put your hand over your heart and tell the baby that you know outsourcing makes sense from a global-economic standpoint. Tell the baby you’re not racist! Chuckle with the baby. The baby knows you’re not racist. You wish all of those Filipino and Chinese fathers the best. There are other babies in the world, of course, and they all deserve a chance! Make sure the baby knows you’re not racist.

It’s funny how you can tell the baby a lot of things you can’t tell its mother.

Take a break. Retrieve some milk from the fridge. Heat it up. While the milk is on the stove, let the dog sniff the baby. It’s good to socialize the baby to the dog and vice versa. Take the baby’s hand and run it along the softer fur under the dog’s chin. Do this until either party grows bored.

Is the baby wet? Smell the baby. No, the baby is not wet.

Squirt some breast milk on your arm. Perfect. Feed the baby from the bottle. Contemplate, as you do every time you feed the baby, how glad you are that you do not have to attach the breast pump to your own nipples.

Waltz the baby around the apartment. Avoid the boxes of unsold overstock. Or, better yet, pretend the boxes are something fun. A castle? A labyrinth! Pretend you and the baby are fighting a minotaur. Is the baby adventuring with you? Or are you rescuing the baby from the monster’s clutches? Better make it a co-adventurer. That way the baby will grow up feeling that it has agency.

Get winded. Sit down on the sofa. Avoid the cushion with the spring poking out. Oof! Tell the baby gently that it is heavy! Jeez, baby!, you can say.

Place the baby on your lap. Smell its head. It’s okay! Take a deep, soothing draught of the baby’s head. The baby will not mind. Dandle it a bit, if you like. Say ‘dandle, dandle’ softly as you do so. Then laugh with the baby. ‘Isn’t Daddy silly?’ you can ask the baby rhetorically.

Look around the apartment. Look at the spaghetti splatter on the kitchen wall. Should you leave that for Mommy to clean up? You should not. Mommy will be tired after her first day back at work.

Bring the baby over to the stain. Think better of this. Was the baby aware of last night’s fight? The fight that led to Mommy slamming the wooden spoon down in the saucepan and spattering spaghetti all over the wall? Had the baby been aware of what was happening? Does the baby recall you sitting alone at the kitchen table after Mommy had gone to bed and staring at the table cloth so long that it went out of focus and the pattern blurred and became three dimensional and moved you to recall those 3-D Magic Eye posters from elementary school and how you were the first one in your family to see them and get it and remark that it was horse or a galaxy?

It’s very likely that the baby does not recall this.

Still. It might be better to clean the stain outside of the baby’s line of vision, so that it doesn’t remember the fight and begin crying and thus taint Daddy-Baby time. So with that in mind place the baby into its crib, spin the farm animal-themed mobile, and go clean the spaghetti stain.

Wait. Sniff the baby. Ah. Now the baby is wet.

Change the baby. Hum while you change the baby. What are you humming? What is that? You cannot quite – oh no. You are humming that song “Higher” by Creed. Why are you humming that? Do not hum Creed to the baby.

Reflect on those Chinese and Filipino fathers. Do they change their babies? Probably not. Probably they make the babies’ Mommies do it? No, no. Stop thinking that way. Stop thinking terrible thoughts about entire groups of people, even if those groups of people are causing you to lose your livelihood. Do you want the baby to grow up thinking like that? Of course you don’t.

Get a fresh diaper. Note that it’s the last one in the package. Write ‘diapers’ on the whiteboard by the calendar. Should you text Mommy and ask her to bring home dia – No. Obviously not. You should take the baby out for a walk and go to the store and pick them up yourself. Jeez, doesn’t Mommy do enough?

Remember that your credit card is not an option. Check your pockets for cash. Do you have enough? Probably not. Count the coins in the jar on the bookshelf. Hold each coin up so the baby can see it. Then say the denomination of the coin in a loud cheerful voice so that this becomes a learning experience for the baby.

Don’t sweep the coins off the table in fit of rage when the total only comes to $6.84! What kind of example is that to set for the baby? Great – the sound has woken the dog and now the dog has run in barking. And there are dimes and nickels all over the floor along with the cheerios and stray oats from Mommy’s morning oatmeal. Great. Just great.

Try not to let the baby see you cry. To avoid this put the baby down for a nap early. Whisper to the baby that you love it. Tell it you hope that that is enough. Tell the baby that Daddy is trying.

Okay, okay, that’s enough crying. Clear your throat. Look at the baby as if to say, ‘I don’t know what all that was about!’

Sit on the bench by the window and wait for Mommy to come home, or the baby to wake up. Eat something. Pet the dog. Reflect that one day you’ll have so much work that you won’t even have a minute for Daddy-Baby time, and that that will be sad too, in its own way.

Get up. Go to the kitchen and scrub the spaghetti sauce stain until the wall is bone white. Go down for the mail. Thank whatever you’re praying to that there are no fresh bills. Throw away a catalogue Mommy got and while you’re at it throw away the little diagram of the five forces too.

Go to the sofa with your Ideas Notebook. Write out a new business plan, pausing occasionally to tap your mechanical pencil against the coffee table and stare thoughtfully at the ceiling. Spend all afternoon if you must. Make yourself some tea if you need a break.

Listen! Is that Mommy clomping on the stairs?

It is. Waylay Mommy before she gets to the nursery. Hug her even if she won’t hug you back. Kiss her on her cheeks and her ears and her eyelids if she starts crying. Whisper into her hairline that you’re sorry. Tell her that everything will be all right, and that you love her, and that she doesn’t need to worry anymore because you have a new plan. Then go into the nursery and gaze at the sleeping baby together.

Repeat as necessary.

Christian HaydenChristian Hayden lives in Chicago, IL.  He is the winner of the 2013 William Richey Short Fiction Contest.  His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Word Riot, Yemassee, decomP, Great Lakes Review and others.

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