Bad Papa? (Letter #027)

Photo of baby Baobao sitting among colourful fallen leaves

A technological confession

My darling Baobao,

One thing I learned a long time ago, many years before you were born, was that most parents don’t take kindly to advice from those without children of their own, no matter how good that advice might actually be. Or how bad.

Detail of a photo of a child seated on a chair or couch, holding a tablet in one hand and a half-eaten chocolate bar in the other. Image via by @anniespratt.
This won’t be my kid! Or will it? Image by @anniespratt via Unsplash.

And something that has long made me want to shake parents (and which I really started to notice when you were in Mama’s womb and I had started thinking in earnest about how I wanted to be as a parent) was seeing kids — who sometimes looked as old as four or five years old! — being pushed around in their enormous, SUV-like strollers as they gazed like zombies into the “device” clutched in their grubby little hands, apparently oblivious.

Image of a Peanuts strip from February 21, 1972.
I don’t think I was ever this obnoxious.

“We won’t be doing that!” Mama and I would assure one another with smiles of nauseating self-satisfaction.

And indeed, we have so far kept at least part of that promises.

Photo of Papa Zesser holding baby Baobao in front of local little library, about to return Neil Gaiman's not-so-good book, Neverwhere.
I’m all for reading, but some books are better returned to the local little library.

We don’t have a television, so planting you in front of one isn’t an option, and we sure aren’t going to let you have free reign with the controls on one of our computers or tablets. (Nor do we intend to get you one of your own for quite some time — though exactly how long that will be is still up for debate.)

We have bought you a set of wooden blocks with which you are already playing, and from which you are already learning — not to mention developing real feelings of accomplishment!

Photo of baby Baobao preparing to add a wooden block to her already-impressive tower.

And when I take you out for walks, I almost never use one of our strollers nor, indeed, do I usually even bother with our snugly. It is one of the great pleasures of my early days as a father to simply carry you in my arms; and it seems to me that you prefer it too. You are certainly more active when I hold you — reaching out for trees and leaves and pointing out dogs and squirrels — than you are when laying back in your seat on wheels.

Detail of photo of squirrel threatening baby Baobao in a local park. (Only Baobao's feet are visible.)
Or being threatened by squirrels, for that matter. Photo by Mama Raven (hence the stroller wheels), September 27, 2020.

But recently, you have been the proverbial royal pain during diaper changes. You twist and turn and twist again, making of the once simple diaper change battles royale of sinew and will, wrestling matches so fierce victory can only be achieved at risk of actually hurting you (and a guarantee that you will hurt our long-suffering ears).

Distractions — toys, then hairbrush, then bottles, then a clean diaper — worked for a time, but with less and less success, until a few days ago, I queued up a video and handed you my phone.


The squirming monster was transformed! In her place was a passive lump, happy to be wiped, lubed, and wrapped, her legs lifted this way and that like some heavy, anatomically correct, rubber training doll.

Detail of photo of Papa Zesser finishing up a diaper change, as baby Baobao holds onto Papa's phone.
Finishing up your latest change. Mama took the photo.

Through the twin miracles of miniaturization and the internet, I’ve found that queueing up a video (I’ve been partial to Emmy the Great’s most recent release — see the end of this letter to find out what I was inflicting on you were watching so many years ago!) then giving you my phone, I get to enjoy an almost blissfully easy diaper change.

And so, I’ve let convenience win out over principle — or at least, over righteous intent.

Will I similarly succumb to the temptation of handing you a device when in a restaurant, or (should we ever get to the point again) when out with friends? Or will I limits on convenience?

Time, as they say, will tell. Or possibly, some of our eaves-droppers will share their experiences and thoughts in the comments.

Either way, I hope you know I love you. And now, here’s Emmy the Great.

Papa Z

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