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The Moment I Realized I’m Capable Of Caring For This Kid Without Killing Him

The following was syndicated from License To Dad for The Fatherly Forum, a community of parents and influencers with insights about work, family, and life. If you’d like to join the Forum, drop us a line at [email protected].

Before the baby, I’d often lament my anticipated loss of free time. My friends, humoring my sour disposition, tried to convince me that I’d still be able to do whatever activity I happened to be whining about at the time. I just needed to establish my “new normal.”

There is no doubt that Jenna’s baby-rearing instincts outshine my unrefined approach. She has been angelically patient while letting me figure things out on my own. Notable accomplishments include my triumph over the Baby K’Tan carrying wrap, buckling Michael into his car seat, and burping him in my lap. I also managed to get him into his PJs while suppressing my rage at the pullover design. If it were up to me, all baby clothes would be velcro.

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Despite these accomplishments, I still have many bridges to cross. Last night we put my growing confidence to the test by blazing a new path towards bedtime routine. The plan was straight forward. Jenna would go to bed early and I’d fly solo on a late night bottle feeding. It was just me, the baby, and a small bottle of breast milk. He looked skeptical. I couldn’t blame him.

The new routine started with instructions. Jenna dictated while I transcribed. First, I’d take the bottle out of the fridge and swirl (not shake) to mix. But how would I know when it was mixed? We settled on 10 swirls. Next, I’d place the bottle in a pot of hot water for 5-10 minutes. Once the milk was sufficiently warmed, I’d compress the syringe-style plunger to expel any air bubbles. The baby was to be at a 45 degree angle when administering the bottle. Jenna asked me if I was sure I could do this. Yes. Was I really sure? Yes, I think.

A doctor performing a typhoid vaccination in Texas, 1943
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Jenna went to bed at 8:30 PM and left me with Michael. He stared at me from his tiny pillow bed. I stared at the clock. The milk cooled in the fridge. Tick, tick, tick.

At 10:30 PM he began his hungry dance. He kicked out his legs and flailed his arms as if he was being attacked by mosquitos. I rocked and shushed him. He started to smile. I held my breath. His smile contorted into a frown which erupted into a wail. His tiny tongue quivered with indignation. It was go time.

I changed his diaper on the kitchen island while warming his bottle. He managed to slither out of the PJs. I delicately threaded his arms back through the oversized sleeves. I lifted, wiped, and dried. I placed him back on his pillow and got the milk. Jenna had showed me how to test the temperature by squeezing a small drop on my wrist. I must not have been paying attention because the milk spurted like a geyser and a few drops landed on Michael. An amuse-bouche before the main course.

If it were up to me, all baby clothes would be velcro.

With bottle in one hand and baby in the other I made my way to the couch. I grabbed a cushion and propped him at an angle. I held the bottle to his face. Nothing. I pressed it against his lips. I coaxed him gently: “Who wants a yummy bottle?” Suddenly, in one quick motion, his mouth opened wide and he chomped down on the bottle like a snapping turtle. I felt a sudden flash of respectful empathy for all Jenna endures during each feeding.

Michael chugged heroically on the bottle while a small trickle of milk ran down his chin. I wiped, sat him in my lap, and gently tapped his back. He let out a satisfied burp. I let out a satisfied cheer. He flapped his tiny arms and puckered his lips. I leaned him back and applied the bottle again. He sucked greedily as I watched the milk slowly disappear. I was on top of the world.

After finishing the bottle he lounged lazily in his baby pillow. I entertained him with an exuberant reading of Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax. He was apparently unimpressed with my effort because he soon became fussy. I laid out a blanket and attempted my first unsupervised swaddle. Despite my best efforts to keep his arms at his sides, his tiny fists kept coming up to his face like a miniature Mike Tyson. Good enough.

At approximately 11 PM, I crept up the stairs and into the bedroom. I eased the door open and lowered Michael into the bedside bassinet. I stood in the darkened room for a few moments unsure if I should wake Jenna. I finally decided to rouse her gently so she could make sure everything was alright. Her eyes opened and she smiled. She looked into the bassinet. “Nice swaddle, babe.”

“New normal” here we come.

Find more of Jeff’s writing check out his blog, License To Dad, where he shares his adventures in new fatherhood as he battles messy diapers, buttons up onesies, and washes tiny socks.