Annie Baby (III): Danger Baby!

The first two weeks were difficult. Annie woke up a couple of times during the night when she was hungry or needed a change. One night I heard her cry and got up to give her a bottle. When I changed her diaper in the crib she decided to gush while the diaper was still open. She wet her clothes and the sheets with urine. When I sat her up to remove her onesy, she threw up. I softly said, “Damn.” Judy, who I thought had fallen back to sleep, had been listening intently. She ran into the room, snatched Annie up and said, “Don’t you say that in front of my baby!” Judy was riding on a progesterone wave of hormone intoxication at the time, and she held Annie in a stance that conveyed the protective aggression of a she-bear defending her cub. My crocodile brain saluted her ferocity, while my Quaker frontal lobe searched for a way to appease her. My eventual response was to feebly say, “Hey, she doesn’t understand what that means.”

I spent many nights walking Annie up and down her bedroom, out into the hall, in circles around the living room and back again. If I put her down she cried. If I walked her she stopped. She stared at me the whole time with expressionless eyes, and as I gazed into their inky black depths I felt like I was in the middle of a job interview that was going badly. I got the distinct impression that she was evaluating my worthiness as a father, and that the preliminary results didn’t look too promising.

Things were better during the day. She took naps with Judy in our bed, and Judy told me that sleep with Annie beside her was so deep and restful that it was like taking a sweet trip to heaven. I figured out a better balance between giving Annie comfort and stimulating her brain. I would walk her around the house to show her paintings, the pattern on a chair, the rough texture of a lamp shade. Sometimes I would push my luck by swooping her up and down in my arms as I carried her around the house. I had decided, apparently, that my newborn needed to feel the sensation of flying. I imagined her as a comic book hero, as an infant who had the super power of stopping crime by crying so loudly and passionately that perpetrators would cease their activities and run away. I’d call out, “Danger Baby to the rescue!” as Annie flew from the living room to the kitchen in search of her next mission.

Every evening we put Annie into a baby swing in the kitchen when we sat at the table and had our supper. She would rock and we would eat. We heard her cough one night when she was three or four days old. We put down our forks and looked at her, and she seemed okay. We went back to our meal and conversation, and a few minutes later Annie coughed again. But this time it sounded forced and phony: aheh, aheh. We returned our attention to her and she seemed eager and happy. We heard another fake cough a few minutes later and Annie stared back at us expectantly when we gave her our full consideration. Judy and I were struck simultaneously by the same realization: our newborn had figured out how to play us. We were happy that she seemed very intelligent and aware, but were frightened by the future. What would she be making us do when she was six? Twelve? Sixteen? The possibilities were a little horrifying.

When she was a two weeks old I drew a black and white picture, a cartoon of a woman with a face like her mother’s, and put it in the crib beside her. She turned her head to look at it and batted it down with her feet. I put it back in place, and she knocked it down again. We were playing together for the first time, but there was a deeper significance to our game. I offered her Fine Art, and she kicked at it until it crumpled and fell. I was reassured that a German tradition, the one begun by the Visigoths when they sacked Rome, was being carried on by my little girl.

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