I love dogs. A lot. Especially big ones with too much skin and floppy ears. I’ve pulled my car over to swarm poor, unsuspecting people walking their canine pals on the sidewalk. “Is that a French Mastiff? Oh my God! I love him! Is he nice? Gah! I love him! Can I pet him? Yeah, yeah, I see my car rolling away. But can I pet him?”
I turn into something equally embarrassing for myself and those around me, my voice rising an octave or two, kissy-kissy noises smacking from my lips, all semblance of would-be machismo thoroughly abandoned. I bury my face in their squishy necks and play-nip their drooping, gooey faces and scratch their wittle tummies and cuddle wuddle their wittle…
Dammit. It happens even when I write about them. See? We’re all embarrassed. This is good for no one.
So yeah, I love dogs.
But when I tell you I have a human baby at home with colic, and you say, “Oh, I know what you mean. I have to mix wet food with Sir Wigglemuffins’s dry food every single time I feed him…”
…first of all, and most importantly, fuck you. Really, from the dark and sleep-deprived depths of my soul, I mean it. Fuck. You. That’s the bottom line of this post. You can stop reading now and get my entire gist. If you keep reading, though, I will say a few nice(r) things.
Second attempt at first of all, I get it. I used to be like you. Partly because I enjoyed pissing off parents but mostly because I kind of believed it. My wife and I bought a Cane Corso puppy a few years back. If you’ve never heard of them, watch Game of Thrones. The Bastard’s Girls, those insane, vicious, square-headed monstrosities that (spoiler) eat Ramsay’s face? Cane Corsos.
She was our first experience with the breed, and we’d read that they can be territorial, stubborn, and aggressive. Whatever, I thought. I had a big boxer. I know what’s up.
I did not, in fact, know what was up.
She was horrible. The worst. A demonic fucking terror. My wife and I lost sleep. We feared going home almost as much as we feared leaving that nightmare alone in the house. We were planning to have kids soon, but how were we supposed to ever introduce a baby to this snapping, snarling hellhound of a killing machine? We weren’t. So we decided to get rid of her.
The decision lasted all of five minutes and ended the moment we had the first inquiry.
“Nah,” I said, seconds into the phone call. “Nevermind. She’s my dog.” And I hung up.
And I put the work in.
Five years and hundreds of hours of concerted training later, the dog is my baby girl. I love her like crazy, and I have zero fear that she’d ever hurt me or my wife, much less our daughters.
(Sidebar: don’t ever pretend to hurt me if the dog is around. Seriously.)
So when my wife got pregnant with our first baby, we were innocently, irretrievably, stupidly confident. We got this. We dealt with Maggie the Cane Corso. How could this be any harder than that?
“Oh, Dad,” my oldest said. “Let me show you.”
And that’s just what she did. It’s an unfortunate irony of life that the point at which we have the most responsibility (a newborn) is the point at which we’re forced to function with the least amount of sleep. Coupled with the fact that I was in grad school and teaching my first semester of college composition, I barely knew where I was half the time. Somehow, I passed my classes, and my students learned something or other, maybe, and at home we were beginning to build something akin to a routine.
Then the colic.
For those who are lucky enough to be unfamiliar with the word, all you need to know is that colic equals consistent, inexplicable, unstoppable crying at the same time every day. Most colic babies—about ten percent of all babies—experience it sometime in the evening, usually between six and ten p.m.
Not my girl.
One a.m., almost every day, until six a.m., screaming. Constant. No reprieve, no reason, and no solution. We held her, we changed her, we fed her, we sang, shushed, swayed, rocked, and walked. And then we traded off so that we could take turns screaming into pillows and punching couches. At least, that’s what I did with my fifteen minutes off while my wife was on her shift.
We bought special medicines, drops, probiotics, my wife changed her own diet, we ordered a swear-by swing—all guaranteed to mitigate the colic. All full of shit.
I remember a friend of mine who had a baby a few months before we did once told me, “Man, it’s hard. I understand how people can shake their babies.”
At the time, I wasn’t sure we could be friends anymore.
Are you crazy? Shake a baby? No. There’s nothing to understand there. People who do that shit are monsters not fit for parenthood or humanhood. Gas chamber, lethal injection, Chinese water torture for the lot of them.
Now, here’s me: I understand how people can shake their babies.
Okay, settle down. We never shook her. But man, it was hard. It’s not just bowels of society who do this; it’s normal people. Normal, decent, tired, overwhelmed, delirious people. It’s real. Parenting a baby is real.
Now that we’re fully in the trenches with my second girl, three months old, I know that my first was way in the upper echelons of difficult newborns. She had me doing serious and secret research on the male version of post-partem depression (which I was relieved to learn exists but just isn’t discussed). And now, whenever I describe how easy my second is to people, their response is usually some iteration of, “Well, yeah, now you know what you’re doing.” The implication here, of course, is that my first was only so hard because we did not know what we were doing. I’ve determined this to be 20% true. The other 80%? Colic and hip dysplasia and jaundice (damn all the bilirubin!!!) and lip and tongue ties and and and and and.
We paid our dues, though, and like Maggie (but to an exponentially higher degree), she’s my girl, my constant sidekick, my sous chef, my reminder that I need to lay off the cookies and hit the gym (“When I’m bigger, I’ll have big boobies like you, Daddy!”), my sleep thief, my evidence that life is too short, moves too fast, and needs to be savored. She’s my everything.
But dads, it’s real.
So you people out there with dogs—particularly you weirdos with four-pounders that you call “fur babies”—go ahead and keep assuming you know what we go through. Especially those of you who are like I was and who enjoy trolling parents, make your jokes and remember your laughs. But just know, it’s the parent who agrees with you who’s getting the real laugh.
“You’re right. It’s exactly the same. Babies are probably even a little easier. So when’s your wife due?”