My approach to babies is all-out sensory overload. Strange noises? I’ll make ’em. Funny faces? No shame. Characters created out of thin air or straight up ripped off from pop culture? Giddy up. I’m just moving down my checklist from one distraction to the next, trying to extend the amount of time between sniffling, snorting, crying baby fits. I’m happy to embarrass myself–publicly or privately–for a smile, a giggle, a coo from Declan. It hasn’t, so far, gotten old.

Most of the time, he seems to light up when we shower him with attention. And this fits with my parental inclination to do something rather than nothing. Less is more? Whatever. I prefer more-is-more. Baby not sleeping? More rocking, more patting. Baby struggling to roll over or put toy in mouth? More help from Dad. It’s well-intended. But sometimes, that approach is just flat-out wrong.

Yesterday, Declan was a full-to-the-brim fuss bucket while I was at work, and Colleen couldn’t figure out why. He wasn’t hungry. He wasn’t gassy. He didn’t seem tired. So she kept trying to play with him. And he would not settle. Finally, she just walked away and left him on his play mat. And instead of screaming, he settled right down. His countenance changed. He played and played and kept playing. For an hour. No adult stimulation. And if science has somehow proven that mollusks have the ability to experience emotion, the phrase “happy as a clam” would apply.

Something similar happened to me last weekend when I tried to put him down for a nap. It’s pretty common for him to fall asleep in my arms and then wake immediately when I lay him down in the crib. Sometimes he falls back asleep; often, he doesn’t. Insert more patting, more rocking. But on Saturday, I just decided to leave him there–eyes open–to see what happened. I left the room, heard nothing for a few minutes, and like any good (paranoid?) parent, got suspicious. So I eased open the creaky door, peaked around it quietly, and looked into the crib. There he was, eyes open, head bobbing around, feet kicking, clam happy. When I looked again a few minutes later, he was babbling to no one. Or maybe to his best friend the lampshade. I don’t know. Either way, he was alone, he was happy, and my services were no longer required. And that freaked me out.

When someone’s dependent on you for survival, and you accept that reality, and then–even for a second–they assert their independence and decide they don’t really need you right now…that’s a “does not compute” kind of moment.

I’ve said before that parenting seems to be an exercise in letting go. Of expectations. Of control. Of any delusion you have it all figured out. I know this intellectually, but it’s a challenge to internalize. Still, I know how much I like my alone time. Some of the most satisfying moments of my life have been when I’ve been playing or working alone. Why wouldn’t babies want a piece of that, too? Everything’s new to them after all. And sometimes Dad’s incessant zoom bop weeeeeeeeee noises and made-up, off-key songs and exaggerated cartoon faces are the wrong kind of distraction. A distraction from the rest of the all-too-big world he is desperate to figure out and determined to conquer. And this, at 4 months old. God help me… what are the teenage years going to be like?

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