[Family] Daddy downtime

Michael G. Yu
A father writes about lessons learned from taking care of his 5-month-old.

PRECIOUS MOMENTS. Dads cherish quiet moments with their kids, too. Photo courtesy of Natashya Gutierrez.

MANILA, Philippines – There is a mutually-understood hierarchy in our home when it comes to taking care of our 5-month-old baby.

If she needs anything – milk, diaper, educational plan – the pecking order on who should meet that need is as follows: mom, yaya, 3-year-old kuya, bug caught in spider’s web, implied spider, toaster oven, and then me.

For some reason, one quiet Sunday afternoon, everyone above me on the totem pole was preoccupied, so I found myself faced with the task of putting our child to sleep.

To the typical father, holding babies is very much like Makati side streets: one way. The moment a dad has a baby in his arms (which in itself is an effort to achieve) he won’t have a clue how to put the baby down.

This is exactly what happened to me. My baby was howling in the crib and probably needed to be picked up. So I did.

Realization #1: Never pick up a baby when you have to pee soon.

Envious of the diaper my baby was wearing, there was no looking back as I assessed the situation I had gotten myself into. I had her in an embrace facing towards me, with her head propped up on my left shoulder (from hereon referred to as Position #1). Success! She stopped crying.

Next step: put her to sleep. I hummed, bounced, rocked, and swayed for several minutes but the baby remained wide awake. Thinking she would be more comfortable lying cradled in my arms, I snappily slid her from a vertical to a horizontal position, just like I used to with rifles in high school military training, all the while scraping her face down the length of my body in one swift motion.

Realization #2: Babies are not rifles.

The moment her head struck my forearm with a soft thud, I knew something was wrong. She began squirming uncomfortably. Her head was at an awkward angle with her nose nestled fully in the crook of my arm. Her arms were jutting out in unnatural directions and she began to wail noisily. How does her Mom do it? I always see her carried this way!

In a panic, I hurriedly lifted her back to Position #1 and wiped my sweating forehead on her pink onesie (don’t judge me; YOU try reaching for the handkerchief in your pocket with a fidgety baby in your arms).

Okay, that didn’t work out so well. Therefore, I decided to stick to Position #1 and try singing again. Miraculously, she began to nod off. She was actually falling asleep! Trouble was, though, her head was flopping away from my body at yet another awkward angle (babies should come with pre-installed neck braces). No matter what I tried to make her head fall back into the space between my shoulder and neck, she just kept nodding off the other way.

To compensate, I reached over to use my (relatively) free right hand as a cup to hold her head in. The good news: she was finally asleep. The bad news: I was in an awfully ungainly position in which my right forearm was two inches away from my face as I cradled the baby’s head in my right hand while carrying her with my left. If I didn’t want to maintain my straitjacket position, there was only one thing to do: I had to find a way to put her back in the crib.

Realization #3: The path from shoulder to crib is a bumpy ride.

I first tried to bend straight over the crib’s railing and lay the baby down in the position she was currently in, but that didn’t work because my “generous” stomach kept bumping against the crib’s railing.

Next, I tried twisting my arms slowly back to a non-folded position to carry the baby in my arms like an offering, thus making it easier to lay her down. But that didn’t work either (see rifle analogy above).

And the few times I somehow got the baby into the crib, even before I was able to slide my arms out from under her, she would stir and begin crying again.

There was no way I could’ve held my position any longer. So, rather than put her down, I decided to slouch onto the sofa, inch her body to the right so that she lay on the middle of my chest, and act as a human bed. My wife would have gladly added the words “king-sized,” but that’s not the point. The point was that I was stuck in this position for the next hour and a half only because I had absolutely no clue what else to do to keep the baby asleep.

I guess some good came of it, though. I was gifted with 90 minutes of doing absolutely nothing.

The downtime was totally unplanned and if I had better childcare skills (and the foresight to have an iPod within reach), it probably would never have happened. Still, it was a much needed time for self-reflection; I came to realize that maybe I wasn’t in such a bad situation, after all.

At least I had the opportunity to hold my baby in my arms everyday, unlike the hard working OFW’s who toil abroad for the sake of loved ones left behind.

At least I had a healthy baby girl breathing softly on my chest, unlike couples that fervently wish for children that they cannot bear.

At least I am blessed with a beautiful family that I have sworn to keep together through thick and thin, unlike the many broken families that exist today.

Life is definitely good, I thought to myself, as I developed a very warm feeling on my chest.

And at that precise moment, I came up with the most important lesson learned during this downtime with my daughter:

Realization #4: If not changed often enough, no matter how absorbent, a baby’s diapers will leak. – Rappler.com

(RAPPLER appreciates contributions from our readers. May is Mother’s Day month; June is Father’s Day month. If you’re a mom, daughter, dad, son, or have mother and father figures in your life you would like to give tribute to, email us your story with photos with subject heading FAMILY: WORLD’S BEST MOM or FAMILY: WORLD’S BEST DAD to desk@rappler.com. We wouldn’t be who we are without our parents. Let’s share our stories to the world.)

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