By Geoff Treen
I had run out of wipes.
"Is he okay?", my wife Shannon asked another patron, a man at the bar who'd recently returned from the washroom. Apparently my panicked, guttural attempts at reassurance hadn't convinced.
"Oh, he's fine," the man apparently said, swivelling on his barstool. "It doesn't smell great, but there's a good energy in there."
A few moments earlier, Shannon and I had been enjoying a nice little high-end pub dinner, with local craft brews, a charcuterie plate and some gourmet burgers on the way.
My then nearly-nine-month old daughter completed our seating triangle, stuffing her face with Cheerios and bits from our cheese plate while passing judgement on the wait staff — in the form of infectious grins or stone-faced stares — from her portable high chair throne.
It was, in a sense, the passing of a torch: Shannon's nine months of maternity leave were ending, and I was to take the anchor leg, a mere three months of what I assumed would be jovial, engaging daddy-daughter bonding with tons of down time to fill with fun side projects.
Maybe I'd finally dust off the home brewing kit permanently residing under our stairs, I thought, and make my own beer. Maybe I'd be able to chip away at my reading list, or learn Spanish.
In retrospect, it was probably a good thing that our little one chose that moment to disabuse me of these ridiculous notions. I'd of course been changing her diapers for nine months already by this point, but this time was, um, different.
It was tar sands spillage. An environmental catastrophe. The stuff kept squirting out of her, as I tried frantically, and vainly, to contain it. I could have sworn she’d lost five pounds. Worst of all, she kept babbling happily away, a giant sparsely-toothed grin across her face, mocking me.
A man came in to use the urinal and gave me a sympathetic look.
Oh, and then I ran out of the wipes and had to make do unravelling the toilet paper roll in the stall (I had pretty much taken over the entire bathroom at this point).
It was a lesson in being prepared, thinking on your feet, and most importantly, learning to expect the unexpected.
When we finally emerged — she in a backup outfit my wife had the foresight to pack, and me, probably looking a little shell-shocked — the men at the bar gave me a round of applause, like I'd just stepped onto the convocation stage to receive my diploma in Introductory Daddying.
But I was really just starting to learn.
Weeks into my stint as a stay-at-home Dad, I’ve learned to master harnessing your baby’s rage for good as you try to get her to push her arms through the sleeves of her sweater; I know every squeaky spot on the floor around her crib to avoid stepping on after she’s gone down for her nap; I know now to keep the blueberries out of her arm’s reach at the grocery store (sorry, Loblaws produce-section associate!); I know that the only truly surefire way to get her to smile is to show her a picture of herself (she may be a bit of a narcissist, but hey, whatever works, right?).
But the big eye-opener for me was how completely full-on, rewarding and exhausting being in charge of a lively 10-month old is. On any given day, I’m her waiter, her chauffeur, her entertainer, and whatever you call the guy whose job it is to stop her from hurting herself.
Naptimes are a gift from above, but even those get eaten into significantly by my attempts to clean up her trail of destruction.
At the same time, I’m the only witness to so many little milestones, be they developments in her speech or her ever-increasing mobility (I watched in amused horror recently as she climbed two full flights of stairs unaided).
A bit like becoming a parent in the first place, it’s been both more powerfully emotional and more all-consuming than I could have imagined.
Sometimes — and, let’s face it. probably those times where I’m trying to wipe her face or her nose and she’s howling and looking at me like I’m her CIA torturer — I think back, wistfully, to that pub night before I found myself mopping up that unholy torrent of baby waste.
Why yes, I will have another pint of Insufferably Pretentious Triple-Hopped Pale Ale. It goes so well with the Camembert, don’t you think? Oh, sweet girl, you’re grimacing. What’s up? Oh, right. Of course, you’ll need a diaper change. I can handle that, and why not? It’s my full-time gig now, and I might as well dive in.
Besides, how hard could it possibly be?
Geoff Treen is an engineer/spy/superhero by trade; a TA in Intro to Daddying by choice; and a convert to easy-slide-off onesies by necessity.