Connecting in my arms
During the first months, Genevieve wasn’t very interested in my arms. You have to hold the baby nearly all the time in those first months, but dad’s hold wasn’t her preference. She liked mommy’s hold. She had the right contours, the right temperature, the right smell, the right everything.
There’s nothing shocking about that; it’s natural. Babies typically find more comfort in their birth mother’s arms because it’s what they know most; they lived in those women for more than nine months, swam in the space, breathed in the scent, formed a bond impossible to break in those early days. The other parent, on some level, happens to be the innocent bystander, and hopefully baby grows comfortable enough with it that baby will allow it to put it to sleep once in a while.
Genevieve did allow me, but I definitely had a more challenging time than Sarah. It would take longer for me to calm her. She fussed more often. I had to learn more holding hacks, like cupping her close as possible while pressing on her thigh just a little, or timing my bobbing to the pace of a mid-tempo pop song and not a waltz or, the other extreme, a Skrillex set.
Then comes sleep training, and soon we’re spending less time rocking and holding and more time patiently listening to her whimper in the crib. By the end of her fourth month Genevieve didn’t need any prolonged holding. Often, if I were putting her to sleep, I’d walk her into the nursery, place her soft lovey in her arms and — voila — baby into the crib. If feeding her before bed, we’d sit in the rocker as I gave her milk. Once she finished I’d just set her right into the crib. Again, voila.
After weeks of doing his, Sarah finally noticed how quickly I transitioned from “Genevieve is drowsy” to “Genevieve is in the crib.” I told her my routine, and that perplexed her a little.
“You don’t rock her?”
“But she’s so sweet then.”
I’d think back to those early days, the squirmy baby who’d start to fall asleep in my clunky hold only to flash those big blue eyes on a dime, then look around the room like I was an idiot: “Oh dad, you thought you had me sleeping.” Cue the long, painful sigh.
I shook my head at Sarah. “Nah, I’m good.”
On Monday, Sarah embarked on her third business trip of the last three months. She flew 2,400 miles to spend three days and three bedtimes in Phoenix. So, as I had now done twice already, I was playing solo Dad for an extended period of time with Genevieve.
By now I have this solo Dad care-taking routine down pat. It helps that Genevieve goes to day care Monday through Wednesday, allowing me to wedge about 20 hours of work into my week and giving me a little respite from being highly alert. But the rest of the time it’s me and her, and it’s fine.
Monday was the worst — it usually is, as it’s when Genevieve notices that Mommy isn’t home to help feed her, bathe her and put her to bed. Thus she cried much of that time Monday, sending me to small moments of frustration as I wondered why, oh why this baby can’t just be cool with having only Dad around. And then I realized she’s only been alive six months and maybe we shouldn’t expect everything of her yet.
Tuesday, however, she was a peach. She ate everything for breakfast, had a good time at day care, took her late-afternoon catnap during our long walk around the neighborhood and happily feasted on homemade pork, peas, sweet potatoes and zucchini for dinner. At bath she started to get really drowsy, and then the tears came, and though they settled for her final bottle before bed, she wanted to be put down pretty quickly. So she was down quickly. No muss, no fuss — a good day.
Wednesday followed that template, and though things didn’t always go to my plan (she woke up too early, she didn’t take her catnap during our walk), Genevieve seemed to roll with the punches. She ate a big dinner once again, but it was early, so I kept her active (much to her chagrin) before bath. But once she hit the warm water she relaxed, splashing and giggling and smiling as I poured water onto her belly.
Then bottle and bed. I sat in the rocking chair with her, she took the milk, rubbed her eyes furiously and hugged her lovey tight. But then she snuggled really tight in my arms, digging her head into my chest as she sucked her thumb, slowly drifting to sleep. For the first time in a long time, Genevieve and I were connecting in my arms.
I kisser her forehead and kept my face there for a few moments, in one way to savor it, but also to reflect on how I often let the incredible little things fly by and, instead, focus on the worst thing that could happen: “She’s going to fidget. She’s going to cry. She’s going to ruin my night.”
No. Instead of all that, my daughter is snuggling close to me. This little miracle that came into our lives six months before is comfortably at home, safe and healthy, beautiful and — at this very moment — as perfect as anyone can be.
I sat there for a few minutes holding her close and admiring her sleepiness. I wanted to sit there forever.