Shortly after the crying stopped, I finally asked my wife, Susan, what she has so often inquired of me: “What were you thinking?!”
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.
The (safety) facts of life
I stopped throwing facts in her face, but I continued my safety crusade, babyproofing the house and stockpiling pureed peas in case of a terrorist attack or hurricane in Ohio (hey, you never know). My efforts paid off… for a while. No scrapes or scratches happened on my watch, and I was no longer scared that I might drop the baby or squeeze her too tightly, as if she were a bag of bread or a pack of Charmin. But my burgeoning confidence soon came to a screeching halt.
Isabelle and I were in the car, she strapped securely into her rear-facing car seat in the back, as safety experts recommend. I steered onto a highway exit, rounding one of those sharp, curvy ramps probably a little too fast. Once I was off the ramp, I aimed my rearview mirror to glance back at Isabelle. The car seat was gone.
Terrified, I pulled to the side of the road and leapt out. What had happened? Had the car seat tumbled out of the car? How could I not have noticed?! I jerked open the back door and there was Isabelle, buckled into her car seat, which was still anchored by the seat belt but completely turned on its side. She flashed me a big, oblivious smile.
I had installed the car seat incorrectly. Once again, I spun into a guilt-ridden frenzy. Where had all my studying gotten me? Despite knowing so much about infant safety, I’d still messed up. But that was exactly it: Even among those who know all there is to know, mistakes still happen. It was liberating, really, to finally realize that there was nothing I could do to ensure that I wouldn’t accidentally cause my child to have — as we say in kidspeak — a boo-boo. Every normal, good parent out there has had slipups and close calls. We’re only human.
Then I had a second revelation. As far as I know, my wife is human, too. And while I feel like I’m the one who’s always responsible for safety mishaps, I’m not with Susan and the girls (our second daughter, Lorelei, arrived two years after Isabelle did) all the time. While I’m working, they have entire days together that I’m not privy to. For all I know, Susan could be bumping their heads and zippering their chins, too — and not telling me.
That’s why, after I put the car seat upright and hopped behind the wheel, I turned to Isabelle and whispered: “Daddy wants to make you a promise. You have my solemn vow: Your mother will never find out about this.”
Until she (gulp) reads this column, that is. So, um, honey, anything you want to confess?