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The baby and the clour


Today I drove up to Oakland to work "at home"--which is to say, at Mary Anne and Kevin's place. Mary Anne had errands to run, so I kept an eye on baby Kavya (and puppy Ellie) while she was out. (And btw, M posted a bunch of baby photos today--my favorite is the one with the toes.)

We've done this before, and Kavya and I generally get along pretty well. I hold her hand occasionally, and she usually lies or sits quietly in various seat-like devices, and occasionally she raises a fuss and I give her either a pacifier or a bottle. And then she spits up on me, and everyone's happy.

Today, though, M had been gone for about an hour when Kavya started to fuss. She rejected the binky (I just now finally confirmed that that word in this context does indeed come from a brand name) and the bottle, and kept being vocal, so I picked her up. M had recently mentioned something about swinging her in the air; I still wouldn't be comfortable doing that, or actually tossing her in the air the way some people do with babies, but I did sort of swoop her upward.

Which would have been fine if not for the fact that the room we were in has a ceiling that's only seven or eight feet high.

The bump of her head against the ceiling was very slight. It took her a second to register it.

And then she started screaming.

There was a time, when I was first hanging around babies, maybe 15 years ago, when the sound of a baby crying made me panicky. Some deep-down part of me was convinced that the baby was ABOUT TO DIE IN HORRIBLE AGONY! and that I must immediately drop everything and run to avert impending disaster.

But I've had enough exposure to babies crying since then that I thought I was over that. I can think more or less rationally with a baby crying nearby, and can take reasonable and measured responses.

But it turns out that a certain kind of piercing scream is a different matter. And screaming about something that's my fault makes it worse.

I didn't know what to do. I held her and tried to be comforting while she screamed her little lungs out, in a mix of outrage and pain, into my ear. I was sure that everyone in the building and for a block around could hear her, and would come and demand to know what I was doing to her.

She finally quieted down (it probably wasn't more than 30 seconds or so, but it felt like forever). So I lifted her away from my shoulder to see how she was doing. And the moment she saw my face she started screaming again. (I have that effect on a lot of people.)

After two or three more repeats of that last paragraph, I got her lying down on M&K's bed, and she quieted down, and pretty quickly went to sleep--all that screaming must have been exhausting.

I figured I would move her to one of her chair-like devices where I could see her sleeping. I picked her up--and she came awake and started screaming again.

But it was clear that she was only half-awake. I put her down again and she went to sleep again. So I brought my computer over to the bed and more or less worked while she slept.

There were several times in all this when I considered calling Mary Anne, but she was in the midst of stuff that would've been hard for her to interrupt, and the bump really had been very slight. If it had been worse, I definitely would've called. Nonetheless, I was half-convinced that that would be the last time I'd be allowed to be alone with a baby.

As it turned out, after some sleep K was fine, and eventually M came home, and I told her what had happened, and she said that K had gotten bumped before and it wasn't such a big deal as long as her soft spot hadn't been hit (it hadn't). And she pointed out that the ceiling in the other part of the apartment is significantly higher; Kevin, who is clever, does his baby-swinging in that area, thus avoiding hitting her on the head with the ceiling.

Anyway, the whole thing was a good reminder to me that I don't know how parents (and childcare professionals) do it. Five minutes of baby screaming left me a nervous wreck.

Later, on the way home, I heard Says You on the radio, and one of the words they played Fictionary with was "clour"--which turned out to be a word from Scotland referring to a bump on the head that doesn't break the skin. I was amused.

(While I was writing this entry, "Brown Eyed Girl" came up on iTunes. I occasionally sing Kavya "Brown Gal," but it hadn't occurred to me to sing her "Brown Eyed Girl.")

In other news, Tim P came by mid-evening to give me my contributor copies of Flytrap, which looks good as always. Fiction by Haddayr, Stephanie B, Jon H, Sonya T, Greg van E, and Jan Wildt; poetry by Alan D; nonfiction by me and Nick M; plus the usual nice production values and an editorial/life update by Tim and Heather. Their baby is due imminently! So exciting!

After they read this entry, though, I imagine they won't let me hold the kid. :)


::amused sympathy::

I'm grateful I've logged enough hours with children that I can usually stay detached enough to go through the logical anti-screaming measures, though if it takes very long, the process can fray the nerves. And screaming that's my fault is much, much harder. (Sometime I'll tell you my tossing a baby story, one that had far worse consequences).


While I'm now more than a decade removed from this type of parenting (as of a few weeks ago, I now have 2 teenagers,) one trick that always worked for me was to gently blow a puff of air into their mouth at a distance of approximately six inches away. It seems to startle them into stopping crying. If you follow that up with a softened smile (it might take a few "lather rinse repeat" cycles) the dramatic moment tends to end with smiles.

Though, I have to say, your instincts for singing also are good. Once again, gentle soothing singing (even from someone who's voice sterilizes frogs at 300 yards, such as myself) reassures the baby that you aren't panicked and neither should they be.


Dude, ugh!

Jed, there is no difference between what you did and what an experienced parent like, for example, oh, say, ME, would have done.

Not to one up you but ...

Three years ago I took my family to a music weekend at a private residence that had a couple of buildings on the grounds. I walked across the yard with Hannah on my shoulder and entered the empty cottage where we would be sleeping that night. It was an old building with tall ceilings, but it was dark on the inside with a little moonlight filtering in from various windows. I walked down the echoing hall looking for a light switch, and halfway down I heard a loud CLANG! followed by a scream from Hannah on my shoulders. I looked up and there was just enough moonlight from that angle to see a swinging cast iron candelabra hanging from a chain in the ceiling.

No blood, but a good sized welt that I felt guilty about for the rest of the weekend.

Um. re "how they do it" ... I think we do it because really, there's nothing else for it but to do it. You seem to have done much the same thing. *grin* I've had far worse accidents with the Mo. It's all OK.

On the other hand, screaming does have a certain effect on the nerves that scrambles and jangles them and boy, we do go crazy...

We'll just invest in a tiny baby helmet for when you come visit our kid!

Consider this...she was already cranky before you swatted her on the ceiling. Although you probably didn't help matters. ;~) Sounds like you handled it fine.

The interesting question (from a parent's perspective) is this...if Mary Anne or Kevin had been home, would you have handed Kavya over to one of them, or kept trying to comfort her yourself until it was clear that only a parent would suffice?

One of the ways we knew we liked Tom (as opposed to Diana's prior SOs) was that he accidentally thwacked our baby and then switched immediately into 'comfort' mode even though we were right there.

No decent parent would deny though, that there are times when only a parent (sometimes, only one of the parents) will be able to quiet a child.

And did I mention the time I bit the infant Jazz on the stomach during play and was crying and laughing so hard that Bh had to take him from me for fear I would drop him?

Earplugs. We used to keep sets all over the house.

In the theme of child abuse, here's an anonymous Cockney poem ganked from Willard Espy:

A muvver was barfin' 'er biby one night,
The youngest of ten and t iny young mite,
The muvver was poort and the biby was thin,
Only a skelington covered in skin;
The muvver turned rahnd for the soap off the rack,
She was but a moment, but when she turned back,
The biby was gorn; and in anguish she cried,
"Oh where is my biby?" -- The angels replied:

"You biby 'as fell dahn the plug-ole,
Your biby 'as gorn dahn the plug;
The poor little thing was so skinny and thin
'E oughter been barfed in a jug;
Your biby is perfeckly 'appy,
'E won't need a barf any more,
Your biby 'as fell dagn the plug-'ole,
Not lorst, but gorn before."

I add as a coda:

"An' Jeddy was watchin' the biby,
Who 'as feelin that day raly sleepy,
But he swun' her about for to play,
But as the roof 'as too close to the biby,
She stahted ta howl and ta bray.

Now the bump 'as perfeckly tiny;
But she howled an' she crided o-nay!
Her muvver and fadder 'nert vexed tho;
They look'd and 'nounced her o-kay."

Well, Steve already took one of my two favorite infant-injury replies -- notable details were that Tom hoisted Wolf's head into a huge, heavy glass light fixture, for an impressive thwack, but then was so intent on comforting her that I couldn't pry her out of his arms. This is how we decided he was a keeper for Diana.

The other was when Fran & Ed were visiting, when Jazz was less than two months old -- age verified by the fact that I was still lame. I'd been nursing him in the Papasan chair, and then needed to hand him off in order to get up with my bum leg. Fran took him, then overbalanced, fell against the wall with Jazz pinned between her and the wall, and then they slid down the wall together. The result was narrow vertical scrape on his nose (and, I think, his forehead), a screaming Jazz, and a nearly hysterical Fran. The more she sobbed in horror, the more Jazz screamed, and vice-versa. I eventually just stuck Jazz in the sling and hobbled outside for a brief walk -- once out of earshot of each other, they both settled down just fine.

I must say, I'm amused to hear you tell child-care stories, Jed, given how you tended to go tharn in the presence of infants back when you were a student and I was nannying them. Oh, and the puff of air in the face trick is a good one (also useful for getting infants to swallow liquid medicine). I remember once when you and I were talking and you were really sad about something, I almost blew in your face, since I'd been successfully cheering [very young] people up with that trick a lot recently.

I have done the EXACT SAME THING with my own kids. And the bump was HARD.

Thanks for all the comments. Definitely comforting to hear that this is just the kind of thing that happens with kids.

I should clarify that when I said "I don't know how parents (and childcare professionals) do it," by "do it" I meant something like "cope with being responsible for kids for extended periods of time"--not so much just how people cope with a baby screaming, but how people cope with parenting (or in loco parenting). And I suppose I more or less know some of the answers; it was more a rhetorical device than anything else, intended mainly as an indication that I continue to be impressed with parents, and continue to be glad not to be one.

Twig: I thought about calling you, as the person (other than her family) who's had the most experience with this particular baby, but I figured I'd wait a few minutes and see if she calmed down, and she did.

Colin: Thank you! I'd heard the puff-of-air thing but had completely forgotten about it; I'll have to try to remember that in the future.

Matthew: Ouch!

Kir: Yeah to the jangled nerves. Ugh.

Tim: Excellent. Maybe I should just get a few baby helmets and carry them with me at all times, just in case I'm called upon to hurl a baby at the ceiling on short notice. :)

Kairon and Bhadrika: Good stories and poems. The funny thing is, in past situations when a baby's started crying when I'm holding them and the parents are around, I've generally been perfectly willing to try to comfort them, but the parents usually take them away from me. I suspect this is largely due to a parental belief that other adults (esp. childless ones) wouldn't want to have to cope with a crying baby; though it should be noted that in most such cases, the parents have turned out to be much more effective at quieting the baby than I was being.

Debby: Hee! I should have thought of that--I think I even had some earplugs with me.

Bhadrika: :) re blowing air in my face. I should note, though, that I don't think I was ever as completely terrified of infants as some of y'all have believed I was (various people at various times, including recently). I think maybe I sometimes get a look of concentration that people mistake for panic or discomfort. IIrc, way back in the period you're talking about I was worried about hurting the kid, because they're small and fragile and I had no relevant training or experience, but I don't think I was truly paralyzed into inability to act (except, as noted, when a baby got distressed and I panicked). But I may be misremembering; that was, after all, twenty years ago. Certainly Jazz was the first infant that I spent an even vaguely significant amount of time around, and that wasn't 'til after college; it was being around him (and watching adults be calm when he was crying) that taught me that a crying baby was not the end of the world.

I certainly didn't know things like how to hold a baby (I'm still learning that), but partly that was because nobody would ever explain it to me; until very recently, the standard response to seeing me hold a baby was to reach over and gently but firmly remove the baby from me, rather than suggesting improvements to my approach. So let me take this opportunity to speak out on behalf of baby-friendly but clueless people everywhere: parents, when someone seems to be awkward holding your infant, it may be worth checking in with them verbally to see how they're doing. First ask (without implying that they're incompetent) if they're okay with holding the kid or if they'd rather not. (Some people really would rather not hold babies; others would be happy to, if they knew how.) If they're okay, then gently recommend a more comfortable or more capable-of-lasting-a-while position; help them get the baby settled in their arms. Everybody wins!

Haddayr: :) But that was intentional, right?


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