Fatherhood: Where grudges go to die

Note: This column appears in the 9/16 issue of The Glendale Star and the 9/17 issue of the Peoria Times

We embarked on a family drive to California over Labor Day weekend. We departed for this six-hour trip at around the same time our daughter usually goes to bed, as was our purpose, hoping that she would sleep. She did not sleep. Not for the first two hours, at least.

Instead, she cried, screamed, and whined incessantly. When her whining would settle down into what we thought would be a deep sleep, she would scream herself awake again and start from scratch. For two straight hours, while driving my car, not even one-third into a long trip, my ears rang and my head ached.

I go through stages of emotion during moments like this. Typically the more patient one in our marriage, I initially pride myself on that virtue, and try to laugh off the craziness with jokes and a lighthearted, one-sided conversation with our screaming child. When that inevitably does nothing, I sort of zone out, and stare ahead blankly for about a half hour and try and block everything out. This eventually turns into a burning rage, and I will then explode with a short, abrupt, verbal outburst that makes the situation ten times worse than it was. At this point I give up, and continue to do what I was doing, which was, in this case, driving while fighting the urge to turn the car into the desert and do donuts around saguaros.

In an effort to distract her and, more importantly, ourselves (and because my in-laws are not truly convinced that our daughter ever cries just because, but rather as a result of some uncomfortable situation we have placed her in), we called my mother-in-law to let her experience the noise for herself. This plan backfired when, in an attempt to soothe her through the speakerphone, my mother-in-law became so upset at hearing her granddaughter cry that we ended up listening to two emotionally distraught females on our way to California.

But this was nothing compared to the following night. We shared a room at our friends’ house with our little one, adjacent to the bedroom of their two-year old boy. On this night, our daughter decided to reenact the events of the drive there. Now, at home we can, and do, counteract this with earplugs, but as houseguests wary of waking everyone else, we were forced to take action and attempt to soothe her, which did not work. Never so frustrated in my entire life, at one point I was literally trying to pull my hair out.

We relented at about 5:30 that morning –- because she did not -- after maybe two hours each of interrupted sleep. Might as well get up, we figured. My wife, exhausted, handed me our daughter, who was now happy as a clam because we had picked her up. I was so mad at her, that I attempted not to look at her, but she kept hitting me in the chest to get my attention.

Finally, I looked at her, and she smiled at me, flashing all six teeth in a wide grin. And despite all of my best efforts, I smiled back, and we went upstairs to play. All was forgiven in an instant.

As I attempted to overload myself with coffee and wait for the sun to rise, I watched this little girl wobble around our friends’ living room, unaware of just how tightly wound around her finger she had managed to wrap a fully grown man. Was I that much of a sucker, I wondered, or just a father?


Joe S. said…
WOW... you hit the nail on the head with this one. I laughed hysterically at the paragraph about remaining calm, having a funny one-sided conversation with a screaming child, zonining out, the BOOM! Explosion, thus magnifying the crying. All while wondering what it'd feel like to play real-life Frogger with my car.

The closing lines were the best. After a sleepless night of trying not to give in, the second you do your little one is happy (because you gave in), and life is perfect. I've found, in the past nine months, that you CAN be too tired for any amount of coffee to completely fix, but I remember the fun mornings and not the sleepless nights.
mkenny59 said…
Thank you, Joe! One of my favorite parts about the lack of sleep is the thought process that goes: "Okay, I'm tired as all heck, but I can take a nap when he/she takes a nap!" But that never happens because naptime is the only time you can actually get anything done. Oh well.

And you're right -- it'll definitely be the fun times we remember after our sleeping patterns steadily even out over the next 30 years.
Anonymous said…
I had 1 child like that Mike. It still amazes me that I went ahead & had 3 more & my last one was just like the first. The only way he would not cry in the car was when we played a type of friends of ours who were opera singers. I can tell you this time passes & they do grow up, faster then you want, & with all the sleepless nights I would do all over again if i only could.