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The boy is lying on my chest as I type. His body about 19 inches long and wrapped in a white and yellow swaddling blanket. He is warmer than a fresh loaf of French peasant bread, and is noisily breathing and wriggling, slowly making his way up to my shoulder. I’m thinking about how I want to raise him in an atmosphere of warmth, love and respect, and how I want to make sure no one ever speaks a harsh word in our home.
I listen to him breathe. Suddenly, he shouts a phrase that sounds like, “I LOVE!”
After a startled pause, I ask, “Okay… You love… who?“
He refuses to elaborate. Later, when I tell Michelle what happened, she says I am being ridiculous if I think a child less than a month-old would ever shout the words, “I love.”
She points out that it’s far more likely he said, “I’m Lev.” That makes a lot more sense. It’s just that he shouted it so quickly that I misheard him. He’s a fast talker.
Other things I’ve noticed about the new arrival: while awake, he often does a nonstop movement that’s a cross between John Belushi’s imitation of Joe Cocker and Mick Jagger being taken aback by something.
He will stare for a long time towards one side of the room as though listening to a thief pick the lock outside the door.
Generally, he is as cool as a cucumber in Alaska but sometimes he will start to act a bit snarky. At those times I have an 8-step process. First I burp him. If he’s still upset. I change his diapers. If that doesn’t soothe him, I do the 5 S’s — swaddle, shush, side position, sway and let him suckle at my man teet. Finally, if he’s still upset, I make snide comments under my breath and flip him the bird when he isn’t looking. (To those who think it’s rude to make such gestures to a baby, I learned this from our cat, Mr. Whiskers, who used to flip me the middle finger every time I turned my back.)
In short, I’m a totally normal dad. I divide most of my time between sitting around the house trying not to go insane, and rocking back and forth in a fetal position in the bathtub, or hiding in the coat closet. Nothing gets to me.
But I confess that I snapped. I whispered (very calmly) under my breath, “Yeah, well at least I don’t poop in my pants. And your onesie is ridiculous.”
But recently, Lev’s begun testing me. And he has a new weapon: irony. (I assume he gets that from his mother.)
Like a greased wild boar or an overly hot potato, a sardonic baby is hard to handle. For example, this morning as I was getting dressed he arched his eyebrow and shot me a look like, “Please tell me that’s not what you’re planning to wear.”
Then he snapped his fingers and did a little head circle movement. Also he was wearing a onesie I’d never seen before that said, “Idaho? No, you da ho.”
Don’t get me wrong. I love my son, and after 3 decades of meditation I like to think I’m a patient man. But I confess that I snapped. I whispered (very calmly) under my breath, “Yeah, well at least I don’t poop in my pants. And your onesie is ridiculous.”
Honestly, I said it so quietly I didn’t think he could hear. But I turned around and he glared at me with an expression that said, “No daddy. You’re ridiculous.”
It was like he branded his words on my heart with a hot iron. As Freud notes in his theory of the Oedipal complex, a boy will have the unconscious urge to murder his father. And in 30 years of martial arts training, while I have learned self-defense against knives, guns, and multiple opponents, unfortunately there is no defense against a sarcastic baby.
I’m sure every parent of a newborn has had this same experience so it’s almost pointless to say what happened next. But yes. We fell to the floor in a wrassling match, he got me in an arm bar, and started yelling, “Now who’s your daddy?” He was kneeling on my chest delivering a classic ground and pound beating, so I tapped out.
The moral of the story is words have power. And you can’t win a fight while holding a baby.
Beyond that, I learned a valuable lesson: sarcasm really is the ugly step-cousin of anger. And I’ve decided it has no place in our home. Although once in a while I will say, “Oh nice, Lev, I see you ‘decorated’ the inside of your diapers. Good work, Poocasso.” And then I’ll make air quotes with my fingers, and run for it.
Dimitri Ehrlich is a multi-platinum selling songwriter and the author of 2 books. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Rolling Stone, Spin, and Interview Magazine, where he served as music editor for many years.