Sunday, May 24, 2009


Parenthood Will be a Scream

What is the trigger, the prompt that separates a baby’s cry from baby’s scream? Over the years I’ve had many opportunities to contemplate the transition, as I’ve been in many situations – church services, public transportation, the homes of relatives – where there were potential case studies available.

It generally starts with a cry, as a child of 3 years old or younger begins making a high-pitched sound indicating his/her dissatisfaction. It’s at this point that I might have begun observance of the change into Full-Screaming Mode (FSM), but I and generally all other adult males who aren’t the baby’s parent of the male persuasion are far too busy attempting to distract ourselves until the crying stops.

There is more than one means of doing so, but the preferred method is typically some sort of reading material, preferably newspapers.

Those of the opposite gender, even those who aren’t the child’s parent of the female persuasion, try to help him or her, usually through soft-toned inquiries such as “What’s wrong?” or “What’s the matter?” that the child is usually months or even years from comprehending. It’s at this point that I should add that, in defense of myself and the other males, our actions do every bit as much to stop the onset of FSM as the females’, which is to say nothing at all.

Before the child is able to talk, it would appear that everyone, maternal instinct/experience or none, is only guessing as to his or her problem during mere crying mode. Either they guess wrong, or they simply lack the adequate time to sufficiently address the child’s grievances, but FSM is inevitable.

Soon, despite the females’ efforts, the child has its hands clenched at is side and its eyelids clamped shut so as to concentrate on dredging up the most insufferable noise possible, and his or her mouth is spread wide open to provide that noise with the greatest range achievable. It’s a marvel of biology that a person this small can make a cacophony of this intensity without tiring within 30 seconds, but the child can keep it up for as long as it takes.

In the meantime, the females nearby scramble, attempting to find the remedy for whatever ails the child’s disposition, while the males who aren’t the parent cover the ear nearest the child and focus ever more intently on their newspapers (what will they do when all newspapers go bankrupt? Focus ever more intently on their Kindles?).

And what about the male who is the child’s parent? All along he hasn’t had a clear role in this situation; before FSM set in he was own ring back from the circle of ladies who were attempting to assuage the child. He would be perfectly happy to spring into action at any moment and do something decisive and fatherly, but is for the moment unsure of what help he could offer. Still, he feels the need to be there in case somebody thought of something vital that he could do.

Once the transition to FSM is complete, he grimaces and looks away, usually somewhere off in the distance, which is where he’d prefer to be, quietly contemplating how he arrived at this juncture in life. He doesn’t necessarily look at the other males in the room, but the confusion and ineffectuality etched onto his face speaks to all of us, warning each one who hasn’t yet had offspring not to do so until we have accomplished everything else in life that we want to do.

If possible, his face seems to say, don’t have children until you’ve got enough money to provide the baby with its own nanny, if not separate quarters.

At that moment, it’s a warning we each take to heart. Still, we marry sooner than we expect to, thinking there will be at least a few years alone with the wife. Married life, we think, will be something similar to our single states of existence but more rewarding, and probably a lot more sanitary.

All too early there’s a baby upon us, and within a few short years we’re that parent of the male persuasion staring hopelessly at distant landscapes while our offspring attempts to deprive everyone in the vicinity of their capacity to hear.

As I have failed to enrich myself to the point where I can afford full-time care for the child I’m about to have, now is the time to explore other options. One thing I can do is devote myself to his upbringing, not only so that I might get to know him better, but also understand and thoroughly document what causes crying to transition into full-screaming.

Then, one day, fewer fathers everywhere need start hopelessly at distant terrain, wishing they could be elsewhere, because I will have mapped the correct course of action!

I suspect the first step of this course involves ear plugs.

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