Free Baobao now! Free Baobao now! (Letter #022)

Photo of Baby Baobao, strapped in child-seat with fist raised in protest.

On guilt, over-reactions, and changes

Note: This letter was composed, in exhausted fits and starts, between the morning of Monday, June 8th, and Thursday, June 11th, 2020. If you notice changes of tone or opinion, that’s why. Sometimes (I hope) process is as important – or at least, as interesting – as conclusions.

My Darling Baobao,

Over time, I hope you’ll have learned that there is little in life harder than admitting you are wrong. Although most of us will easily profess that “everyone makes mistakes,” when it is ourselves who are in error, we tend to reach for every possible excuse and justification to exculpate ourselves.

No one wants to look someone they have wronged in the eye and say, “I’m sorry. I did the wrong thing and I hurt you.”

Well, my darling girl, I am sorry, and I hope I have not hurt you too much. And I hope that changing things now will make things better in the future.

And just what terrible crime have I (we) committed against you?, I hear you ask.

Photo of Baby Baobao crying while strapped in a chair.
O! Papa, why won’t you set me free?!?

To make a long story short, we have not given you sufficient freedom. Rather than child-proof our kitchen and living room, rather than place gates at the tops and bottoms of our stair-cases, we have instead opted to (for lack of a better term) imprison you. While awake you might find yourself trapped in a jumper in the living room, literally tied to one of two chairs (high and low) in the kitchen, or set “loose” to roam the confines of a fenced-in enclosure in my office (and your soon-to-be bedroom).

As time has gone by, day by day, week by week, I’ve had a growing sense of unease with the situation, but only yesterday did I fully articulate it. And that, thanks in large part to the mother of my friend Vernon (thank you Lois!), who, commenting on photos showing up on Facebook, kept exclaiming things like, “You have her tied up again.”

“You have her tied up again.”

You have her tied up again.

I offered back the argument of necessity, but last night spend a lot of time letting Lois’ words echo around my sometimes not-so-swift-as-I’d-like-it-to-be brain.

Your mum and I have sometimes worried about the pace of your development. You were a little slow to crawl, a little slow to sit up (as I’ve talked talked about before).

But how, I asked myself in the dark last night, are you supposed to develop if we keep you forever locked in a cage or literally tied to a chair?

Photo of Baby Baobao crawling in her playpen - or 'cage'.
“Pleeeeaaase release me, let me go …”

So, Monday morning as your mum struggled to asleep (you let me sleep in until 06:10! Thank god I managed to be in bed by just after midnight!), I pulled out an adjustable gate to keep you away from the living room and, especially, from the stairs that lead to our front door, and let you down on the kitchen floor instead of strapping you into your chair to wait while I warmed up the milk your mother pumped last night as you and I slept the sleep of angels. (Well, you slept the sleep of angels; I’m told I slept more like a rumbling dragon, but my snoring is a matter for another time and another place).

At first, you looked up at me with an expression that, I thought, hovered between confusion and suspicion. But when I smiled at you, you seemed to understand this new liberty was real, and you started to crawl. I turned back to the sink and coffee preparations.

Photo of Baby Baobao crawling on the kitchen floor.
“Free at last, free at last! Thank god almighty I’m – wait, what’s that damned gate doing in my way?”

Naturally, you went straight for the small garbage can in which we store our organic waste, and upended it. Coffee grounds everywhere. But no real harm done.

I’d only had my back turned to you for about 35 seconds.

I sighed (as a parent is wont to do, especially at 6:30 in the morning, before the coffee has even been started brewing), picked you up and moved you what I hoped would be a sufficient distance away, and set about dealing with those grounds. (Pray take note for when you move out: Don’t spill coffee grounds; they are a royal pain to clean up: they don’t happily adhere to a damp cloth or tissue, and they seem to actively run from a broom.)

* * *

That’s more or less where I left off writing to you on Monday. Tuesday, you were a monster, exhausted most of the day and utterly unwilling to sleep. By the time you were out, Papa Z was ready to follow you almost immediately — and I was actually unconscious by about five minutes past midnight.

Anyway, time has changed — or at least softened — my thoughts about the physical restrictions we’ve placed upon you.

Tuesday I decided to extend my new-found philosophy. It’s a papa’s job, after all, to do more than keep you out of harm’s way; he is also supposed to bring the world to you, and you to the world.

So, we took an after-breakfast, after-rain walk. No stroller, no snugly, just daughter and daddy, and daddy’s strong arms. (Yes, possibly that change to your routine had something to do with your later howls and refusals to sleep; who knows?) And a lovely walk it was.

Photo of baby Baobao looking at, and touching, the bark of an old tree.

You saw puppy dogs and their people; you touched the barks and leaves of various trees; you ignored the spatter of rain that fell as we neared home after nearly two kilometres of walking — well, of being carried in my arms.

And Wednesday, your mum and I took you out again. A shorter walk, and one with a purpose (as well as a stroller; I can’t carry you and groceries (no, you stayed outside of the stores and away from the line-ups), but still a break in the routine of life indoors.

At the same time, exhausted by Monday’s howling, I backtracked a little. Before breakfast, you spent as much time in your jumper and strapped into your soft chair as you did checking out the mischief available to you on the kitchen floor.

After all, you are not yet even 10 months old. That we have been keeping you tied up maybe a little too much (although: it’s my understanding that in some cultures babies are kept swaddled for the first couple of years!) is not quite the monstrous act of child abuse the words tied up led me for a while to feel.

Mama Raven would rather you not be given leave in the kitchen at all until you can walk; she has a horror of dirt and grease that I can only counter so much.

(On dirt, the wonderful Doctor Spock (page 116, 10th edition) had this to say, which I hope will go some way towards easing her anxieties (the emphasis is mine): “Watch a baby at the crawling stage when his parent is washing dishes. He plays contentedly with some pots and pans for a while. Then he gets a little bored and decides to explore in the dining room. He creeps around under the furniture there, picking up little pieces of dust and tasting them.” Mama Raven? Baobao is going to get dirty; our job is to keep the place clean enough, not to provide the baby with a fully sterile environment. Digression over.)

So it’s been an interesting coupl’r’three days in Papa Zesser’s brain. From guilt-ridden panic to serene determination to modify our patterns, and to keep on doing so over time.

This (now bloody Thursday evening, I took you for another after-breakfast walk, from home to one park, then a circle to Gladstone Avenue and up to Bronson, through another park and back home. About two kilometres with you in my arms. We stopped at more trees (and one of the same ones), met more dogs and exchanged words with a handsome crow. Once home, we sat on the stoop and watched two men and a very large and loud yellow truck stop and take away our recycling. I explained that they had one of the most important jobs a civilization has, but I don’t think you were really listening.

Then back inside, warmed up some of your mother’s milk, then a diaper change and you went down for a nap with barely a peep.

Nearly 10 months in and, at least this morning, your Papa feels like maybe he’s getting a proper handle on this fatherhood thing.

I love you, brave girl, and I don’t feel nearly so guilty as I did when I started this letter so many days ago!

Papa Z

Ottawa, June 8 – June 11, 2020

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