Colleen took Declan to Denver for a few days, and in the short time they were gone, I apparently forgot all I know about parenting a six-month-old. Or, at least, the middle-of-the-night stuff.

He’d been crying for awhile and wouldn’t self soothe, so I went in to pick him up. I noticed he was drooling a lot so I figured maybe it was teething pain and I should give him some Motrin. But fumbling around in the dark, I couldn’t find the bottle. So I turned on the light.

And there he was, staring into my eyes, waiting for me to do something useful. Story of the next 18 years, I’m afraid.

Even with the light, I couldn’t find the medicine. So I carried him into the bathroom. Not there, either. Then I either got flustered by his screaming or, you know, my brain is not fully functioning at 4 a.m, and I second-guessed myself and decided no medicine. He’s probably just putting up his standard middle-of-the-night protest. So I put him back in the crib and left the room…and the crying got worse.

So naturally I felt bad. Maybe the teething really is keeping him awake. I’d feel like a jerk if I could do something to help but didn’t. So back into his room I went to pick him up, somehow forgetting that I still had no idea where to find the Motrin! On came the light, and Declan looked confused and pissed when I began carrying him around the apartment aimlessly, looking in the same 2 places over and over, thinking each time the medicine would just magically appear. It didn’t.

So I figured I would at least do something useful and change his diaper. Foiled again. Because of Colleen’s trip, the baby supplies were not in their usual spots. No diapers, no wipes, no changing pad in his room. At least not visible to me. So I put Declan down in the crib again and left the room. He was, understandably, angry.

I went back to our bedroom, searched on hands and knees for a diaper and a wipe, and then sheepishly put my hand on Colleen’s back to wake her up.

Here’s what I think I said: I’m going to comfort our crying child with a small dose of medication for his teething pain. Do you know where I can find the Motrin?

Judging by her response, here’s what I really said: I’M GOING TO DRUG OUR CHILD WITH KEITH RICHARDS’ OWN STASH OF POWDERS AND LIQUIDS. WHERE’S THE SYRINGE?

Colleen mentioned the possibility that maybe he wasn’t teething. Maybe he was awake just because and didn’t really need another dose. After all, she’d just given him some pain medicine six hours ago.

It’s hard to make good decisions at 4 a.m. You either think too much or not enough. And by that point, I’d done a little of both. So after changing his diaper, I changed my mind once again and decided no medicine.

By now, Declan was so stimulated and confused and awake that there was no way I was going to get away with putting him back in the crib. I knew this. And yet, almost as if out of body I watched myself put my child down on his mattress and walk away.

The sound that followed was perhaps the most damning and effective parental critique this side of a Dr. Phil episode. No words necessary. I endured about 45 seconds of it before going back into the room, picking him up (this time with Motrin in hand), and giving him the medicine I’d intended to give him an hour ago.

Within 20 minutes he was asleep. A mostly happy development.

I say mostly because every time I have given Declan a dose of medicine, I’ve thought of my dad “accidentally” overdosing one of our cats to make him stop meowing during a cross-state move. Not only did Charlie stop meowing, he stopped moving. My parents had been married for about five years at the time, and I hadn’t been born. I’m convinced the only reason I’m around and my parents are about to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary is that Charlie eventually woke up. I take the “recommended dosage” information seriously.

But I triple-checked the dose and so when Declan went to sleep, I was pretty sure I hadn’t over-medicated him. At least I got that right.

The good thing about this story is that it won’t be Declan’s first memory of his dad. I have a few years to raise my game. With any luck, his first memory will be of me doing something heroic. Like the move Colleen nonchalantly pulled off today in which she had Declan in one arm, a toy in the other, and– realizing she needed it because he’d just spit up– grabbed a burp cloth off the floor with her toes without breaking a stride, transferred said cloth from her toes to her hand without tripping or dropping the baby and then– and this is maybe the most impressive part– didn’t even stop to brag about it! Sorry, Declan. I just don’t think I’ll ever be that cool.

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