When I was a kid, my dad brought home a computer every summer for a while. At first it was a TRS-80, and later an Apple IIC and an Apple IIE. We had lots of games by Broderbund and Beagle Bros. One game involved a laboratory; you put various ingredients from a few lists into a beaker, and the ingredients that you put in determined what sort of monster you created. The challenge was to figure out which combination of ingredients would result in the “target” monster. On harder levels, you picked multiple ingredients from each of the lists — the vastly increased number of possible combinations made it pretty tricky.
I enjoyed the game because it allowed me to figure out how my input led to certain results. If I put in ingredients a and b and got result x, then ingredients a and c gave me result y, but b and c gave me result x, then I knew that ingredient b was “dominant” over a and c — important to know sometimes.
The point was, I could figure out all the variables and eventually I would know exactly what combination of actions would lead to the desired result.
Now, please understand, those of you who have read the title of this post, that I did not expect taking care of a baby to be this systematic… but I did expect it to be slightly more systematic than it is.
(Oh, baby’s crying? Feed it, change it, rock it, hold it, try all the tricks. None of them work? Okay, the books say that happens sometimes and the answer is just wait it out. Got it.)
Except that you want to be proactive. You want to be able to predict your child’s needs and to be ready to respond right away, and sometimes it’s not possible.
Like tonight. Sage started fussing about 10:50. Her normal feeding time is as close to 11:00 as possible, so she was only a little early. It was my “shift” to take care of her, so I started the procedures — changing her diaper, heating her bottle, and so on. I have a pretty decent routine for this — I know exactly what I need on the traytable next to the chair (spit rag, television remote, a drink for me, pacifier) and where other things go before I ever get to the chair (thin blanket over the right shoulder of the chair, “Boppy” pillow on the left shoulder). I know that to keep her quiet so Ann can sleep, I have to be quick with the diaper change, so I generally get the bottle heating and everything in place before I go to change her.
But tonight, the bottle I expected in the fridge wasn’t there. Or, rather, it was there, but it didn’t have a nipple on it, just a cap. Okay, no problem, I can get a nipple from the drying rack. Except the one on the rack is the blue-ringed nipple, not the green-ringed nipple, and she’s previously had trouble with the blue-ringed one releasing milk too fast. Okay, so where are the green-ringed nipples? Probably in the dishwasher, in the little basket doohickey we use for that. Dishes look clean, so we’re probably good to go…
Except that they were disassembled. Ann had told me that they disassembled… but I had no idea how to reassemble them. And while I’m sure I could have figured it out, Sage’s fussing had gone from zero to cranky in a very short period of time. My decision was to use the blue-ringed nipple. After all, she’s been eating more, and faster, and I’m pretty good at burping her.
And all went fairly well, until right in the middle of eating she started to cry the way she usually does when her tummy is a little upset. I burped her, but no luck. She made faces like she was trying to fill her diaper or pass gas (both of which, as a baby, she does with alarming volume… and also alarming volume). She gave up on the bottle — fortunately, she had consumed most of it by that point. She settled down fairly quickly, luckily for me, and she’s been sound asleep.
But I couldn’t help but ponder this. I had a plan. It didn’t work. I went with an alternative. It may have hurt her.
Obviously, I’m not trying to suggest that one night of using the blue-ringed nipple is going to cause her agony forever. At worst, a little discomfort for one night. But here’s the thing…
She can’t tell me if her fussing was about gas, and if it was, she can’t tell me if the gas was due to the different nipple. I’m guessing. I’m hypothesizing. I’m trying to figure out if the ingredients a and b are giving me result x, but there’s really no way to know for sure. So tomorrow I’ll try to stick to the other nipple, and if she fusses the same way… it tells me exactly nothing. Because she might still have gas, or she might be fussing for another reason. I have to make my best guesses and use trial and error.
But doesn’t trial and error sound like a horrible way to bring up a child? PLEASE don’t get me wrong — I am not stressing or panicking or anything else that should make you long-time parents smile and think, “Aw, that’s cute, a first-time dad freaking out.” There is no freak-out going on. Just the gradual dawning of awareness that all of this — all of this — is a shot in the dark. I’ll make the best plans I can and try to stack the deck in Sage’s favor, but it’s a whole lot of educated guesses and very little formulaic determination.
My frustration is this: at some point, something will go wrong for Sage. Something will go wrong and it will hurt her — whether it’s a dislocated elbow from jumping off the steps when she’s two, or a classmate saying something so vicious to her when she’s nine that she never wants to go to school again, or, God forbid, something worse that I can’t even stand to consider. And at that point, I know that I will think back through every decision I made that seemed important at the time, and wonder if I put the wrong ingredient in. My rational mind knows that life happens to all of us, but emotionally I will be distraught at the thought that I failed to protect her from it.
If only we had somehow managed to have identical twins. At least then, I could have picked one to be the “control.”