Declan is a fun, sweet, joyful boy most of the time. But all babies bring the drama. They’re happy. They’re sad. They’re…whatever this is.

Sometimes anger is anger. Sometimes it’s gas. Sometimes, just intense focus. Recently I’ve noticed Declan’s face turning bright red, even purple, in the moments before I put him down for a nap. At first, I was worried because he wasn’t making a sound. Then I realized he was holding his breath and pushing with all his might, a la the Hulk, in an attempt to break his swaddle. Restraint is, apparently, one of his buttons. And it can change his countenance in a matter of seconds.

So what to make of all the noises? The faces? The whiplash swings from this emotion to that? I bring you… The 9 Circles of Baby Drama, Misery, and Woe.

The well-read, the cultured, the erudite among you might make a connection between my 9 circles and those of Dante and his inferno. I assure you any similarity is purely coincidental and in no way am I comparing babies, parenthood, or night upon night of inadequate sleep to the fiery depths below. That said…abandon all hope, ye who enter here. The 9 circles…

Circle 1: Annoyed,
Or: “What did I just grab with my hand and how do I get rid of it?”
Or: “What are these jagged things that keep stabbing me in the face?”
Or: “We do this multiple times each day but why has this onesie been covering my eyes for the past 2.4 seconds and what do you plan to do about it?”
Or: “Why am I dressed like a penguin?”

This level is characterized not by crying, but by hilariously over-the-top faces. It’s more funny than sad. More entertainment than woe.

Circle 2: Overwhelmed,
Or: “Why do all these new humans keep poking me?”
Or: “Make the fluffy thing stop sniffing my diaper”
Or: “Hey, Dad, pick one: pretend to be an airplane, talk in a crazy European accent, or tickle me. But not all three.”

You’ll know this level because one minute they’re happy, and the next they’re exercising their lungs with screams and grunts straight out of a Monica Seles tennis match.
The good news? For parents, the situation is easily identifiable and fixable. Once the incoming stimuli are reduced, baby usually calms down or falls asleep. For visitors or relatives, the sheer volume of distress voiced at this level can be enough to induce confusion and heavy drinking.

Circle 3: Ignored,
Or: “Why did you stop making eye contact with me for that second you looked up to see the score of the game? Don’t you know we’re bonding?!”
Or: “How long are you planning to let me sit in my own feces?”
Or: “I spent five minutes staring at the insipid birds on my mobile while you made breakfast. Now pick me up. And enjoy your cold eggs an hour from now.”

Another zero-to-sixty escalation. But once a baby has been ignored for too long (and too long could mean anywhere from a few minutes to a few seconds), there will be crying. And it will last. And you will lament ever attempting whatever lame act of adulthood that dared interrupt the stick-out-our-tongues game.


Circle 4: Ignored AND Defied,
Or: “I thought my crying made it abundantly clear I do not want to go for a ride in the car”
Or: “Yawning is not a sign that I’m tired. It’s a sign that you’re stupid for trying to make me nap. Allow me to shriek now.”
Or: “Thanks for not parenting. I’m going to try to shove both fists in my mouth to cope. Good luck prying them out.”

The crying really escalates. This is ear plug territory. Two choices here: either go about your lives and wait it out, or cancel all plans, pull the curtains in your house, lock the door, and dedicate yourself to a life of solitude and celibacy.

Circle 5: Exhausted
Or: “Yawning is totally a sign that I’m tired. Why aren’t you creating optimal conditions for me to sleep (i.e. carpal-tunnel-inducing back-patting combined with you-sound-ridiculous shushing… And oh yeah, don’t put me down for the next four hours)?”
Or: “I may be joyously kicking my feet now, but in 2 seconds I will screaming and it is because I should have been in bed 30 minutes ago but now there’s all this pressure on all of us and chances are it’ll be another hour and a visit to your chiropractor before I even begin to drift off.”

Once it has started, this is a tough cry to stop. I know of only two things that can calm a baby in the “I’m too exhausted to sleep” stage. And both of them have nipples.

Circle 6: Restrained,
Or: “Wait, the doctor’s going to do what? I’m anti-vaccine! I’m anti-vaccine!”
Or: “What the hell is this?! Do I look like a burrito? Unwrap me, immediately! Or else…”

The disbelief on their baby’s face coupled with the sheer force of crying can make even the most iron-willed parents begin to doubt their methods and/or humanity. But soldier on. There is nothing at all embarrassing about a 150-pound man needing restraints to control an 11-pound child.

Circle 7: Scared,
Or: “My eyes are closed, my arms are straight out and tense, and I am screaming. Do. Something. Now.”

This is the worst one in my opinion. Babies are so small, so vulnerable, and sometimes they really believe their life is in danger. Even if I know he is okay, it is still heartbreaking to think that, even for an instant, he feels threatened.

Circle 8: Angrily Frustrated,
Or: “I want to poop but I am physically incapable of the multi-tasking required to make that happen.”
Or: “Some combination of the problems above has caused me to kick my legs with such force that one of my socks has come off. And now, in addition to being angry, I have to suffer the discomfort of cold toes and the indignity of mismatched feet. You will pay, parents. You will pay.”

For some reason, only one sock comes off. Obviously there is much crying and gnashing of teeth in this circle. Often to blame? Parental decisions as ill-conceived as: taking a tired baby out to run an errand that is 30 minutes away, putting said baby in a carrier he doesn’t like, taking him out, deciding to wait to feed him, putting him back in the car seat, trying goofy things to stop him from crying, driving another 30 minutes back home, then trying to get him to sleep. Not that we have any experience with that.

Circle 9: Misery,
Or: The few minutes after waking in the middle of the night when he realizes he is starving,
Or: That 2-week stretch we had to sweep underneath his tongue to prevent the tongue tie from reattaching,
Or: The terrifying sound of a baby not screaming,
Or: Tummy Time.

This level features the biggest diversity of baby noise, from sobs to hacks to squeams (an especially squeaky, high-pitched scream) to the dreaded mouth-open, silent, I’m-about-to-wail-like-no-one-has-wailed-before-but-not-until-you’re-properly-terrified face of misery. It is impossible, as a parent, not to go “awwww” or maybe “aaaahh!” at these times and want to respond, either with food or hugs or words of encouragement. And that is the proper response. That is what makes our kids ours and keeps them alive and kicking.


But there is one more level. It is the stuff of legend. A special circle reserved for boys and the parents of boys.

Special Inner Circle of Baby Drama, Woe, and Misery: Hair-wrapped-around-the-wang angry.

Our doctor told us that sometimes a baby will be screaming and you’ll go down the checklist and all their needs seem to met, and yet there is still that piercing cry from the depths and just when you are ready to call 911 or the National Guard you find a solitary hair wrapped tightly around his wiener. You don’t know how it got there. He doesn’t know how it got there. He still doesn’t know what, exactly, that is between his legs. But he knows whatever’s down there doesn’t feel good.

Mind you, this hasn’t happened to us yet, but I’m frightened of the sounds that will emanate from our child if it ever does. And I feel like it’s only a matter of time given the sheer amount of dog hair around our house. All I know is, I would not want to be our neighbors on the day one of those barely visible blond strands makes its way into Declan’s diaper.

Consider yourself warned.