Our 9-month-old daughter, Isabelle, had learned to stand and Susan was encouraging her to fall backward, so she could catch her. Isabelle thought it was great fun, and it was. But I could see this was going to end badly. I tried to tell Susan as much, but she waved me off, thinking I didn't trust her to catch our little girl. Actually, I was afraid that Isabelle didn't fully understand the game. Sure enough, when Susan thought the game was over, she turned away, and Isabelle stood up and stretched out her arms.
"Nooooo," I shouted, leaping up from the couch, a bowl of chips flying into the air. But it was too late. Isabelle had already fallen, the back of her skull meeting the well-worn carpet. As Susan embraced and apologized to our screaming daughter, only one coherent thought mustered its way from my rattled brain: Phew -- this wasn't my fault.
I'm not proud of being petty, but it's common knowledge that if a baby is accidentally bumped or bruised, the dad is almost always to blame. As a group, when it comes to infants, we don't have a reputation for being very safety-conscious. We toss them into the air, wrestle with them on the floor, and spin them around until they're dizzy. We're a cross between an annoying preadolescent older brother and an overzealous cruise director.
Or maybe it's just me. When Isabelle was a few months old, Susan brought her to my basement office. The ceilings aren't low, but there are two spots where there is an overhang, and... well, you can see where this is headed. Susan handed Isabelle to me, and she looked so adorable that I suddenly felt incredibly lucky to be her father. I hoisted Isabelle into the air, planning on gazing into her eyes and having one of those Hallmark card moments.
Oh, I gazed into her eyes, all right. Even if someday I'm indoctrinated into a cult, amnesic, and brainwashed, I'll still remember Isabelle's contorted look of confusion and betrayal, right after her head collided with the overhang and before she burst into tears. Susan comforted Isabelle, while I paced nearby, racked with guilt, calling myself every name in the book. If I had suddenly been blessed with magical powers, I would have conjured up a pro wrestler on the spot to beat me to a pulp.
After that, I decided I'd better bone up on my safety smarts. And so I began to research everything I could about infant injury prevention. I didn't want to be the cause of my daughter's tears anymore; I wanted to be able to protect her just as well as my wife did. I was a fast study. Soon, I was warning Susan each time she left for Kroger about the dangers of putting the baby's car seat on the top part of the grocery cart. "If somebody hits your cart, the car seat could go flying off," I told her.
When I saw Susan dressing Isabelle for bed in an oversize T-shirt, I cautioned her that the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission suggests that babies and young kids never sleep in loose-fitting cotton or cotton-blend garments. "They catch fire easily," I explained. (Snug- fitting cotton pajamas are the safest bet.)
I became obsessed. And Susan appreciated my newfound wisdom. She appreciated it so much that she said she would take notes so the jury would understand what had forced her to back the Saturn over me in the driveway.
Geoff Williams is a Babytalk contributing editor in Ohio.