love bites, love bleeds/it's bringing me to my knees
t. berry brazelton, md -- "the beloved dean of American pediatricians," according to his own book jacket, so it must be true -- writes in his seminal book "Touchpoints"** that at the four month mark, the love affair between parent and child is at its most intense:
Parents and the baby are now "an item." Bonds of affection are weaving them tightly into a family ... I can reassure parents that this storm of feelings is called falling in love. -- p.83-84i can assure you that the dean is absolutely correct. having a four-month-old is like being in an intense new love affair. all of dad's thoughts are about his perfect little girl. he beams with pride as he struts through the neighborhood wearing her strapped to his manly chest. when he minces into her room after a full night of sleep, she squirms and wiggles with delight in her crib as if to say hey, it's you again! i remember you! you totally rock! and she smiles the ur-smile, a smile unsurpassed in its brightness and beauty on any face that ever smiled before and will ever smile again. she babbles adorably in a love-language that only her parents speak. four months into parenthood is a heavenly, perfect place to be. i never knew it would be this much fun! no one has ever loved a baby this much.
sadly, our baby is now five months old.
brazelton does not extend the love affair metaphor, but lucky for you mr nice guy is willing to do the work for him. by four months, the baby has engendered all the good will it is possibly going to get -- it has political capital to spare and at five months, it's time to start cashing in. as with any love affair, things start off basically equal, but there is always some minor inherent power imbalance. there is always someone who is a little bit more emotionally invested, a little bit weaker. in the case of baby, for example, i am willing to wager that the people wiping her ass are more emotionally invested than the ass-wipee.
after the bliss-stage of the love affair wears off, the person with less emotional investment, and consequently more power, may begin to take advantage of the other's blind love. in a traditional romantic relationship, this might mean that one half always calls or e-mails the other, who just assumes that the call will be coming. or perhaps the couple always finds themselves spending the night at one's apartment instead of splitting time equally between each other's perfectly good digs.
with a baby, this shift is less subtle. already the baby is accustomed to having her ass wiped. now the baby kicks it up a notch: sure, she's been sleeping through the night for a couple months now, but that doesn't mean, for example, that at at five months of age she can't suddenly decide to start waking up SCREAMING BLOODY MURDER every night at midnight. and again at two am. and AGAIN AT FOUR O'FUCKING CLOCK. EVERY NIGHT.
sure, she's been breastfeeding since she was approximately eight minutes old, but that doesn't mean that, now that she has tiny snaggleteeth, she can't BITE down and drag her razor sharp inchoate incisors across mama's areola at EVERY FEEDING.
sure she's learning how her body works, but how many times does she really need to reach out and grab my hair and pull it like she's manically weeding some horribly infested garden? (she does this to the hair on my head, yes, but also the hair on my CHEST, the hair on my chinny-chin-chin, the hair on my wife and, to their unfathomable chagrin, the hair on my cats.)
and while we're at it, how insanely manipulating is this: oh look at me, daddy, i am so cute! i sure would smile and love you forever if you just handed me that little toy over there ... thanks for giving it to me, daddy! i love it! now i am going to throw it on the floor and you are going to pick it up, bitch!
brazelton likes to focus on the positive. maybe that's why he's the self-appointed lord god bird of american pediatricians. but if you're going to make the "love affair" comparison, you've got to go the distance. what happens when the relationship turns abusive? what happens when one is finally, ineluctably let down by his or her lover. what happens when the blinders come off and one finally sees the object of their fancy for what she truly is: a midnight-screaming-hair-pulling-pants-soiling-toy-throwing-food-spitting-nipple-biting maniac? WHAT HAPPENS THEN?