Sunday, October 25, 2009

Obsessive. Compulsive. Dad.

My wife Fitzsimmons has decided that at four months, Sam needs a routine. “All the books recommend it,” she says airily. I’m worried. Routines for babies seem so… fixed. According to our pediatrician, four months is when babies start to understand cause and effect. But what if Sam learns something and can’t unlearn it? What if he never eats again unless he’s being carried? What if he can’t get to sleep ever again without listening to The Beatles’ Yesterday? What if, and this is the big one, my son turns out like me?

It’s not that I’m a bad person, though I occasionally re-use bus tickets. It’s just that I’m resistant to change. I’ve been eating muesli, for example, for nearly three decades. I like to listen to the same song over and over – this week it’s Somebody’s Crying by Chris Isaak. I have a system for washing up that Fitzsimmons refuses to adopt.

At four months, Sam has a chance to escape this fate. At thirty-four years, I’m toast. Since he was born in March, I have become OC Dad. And with all these new routines for the baby, I’m only getting worse. “You need to read to him every day,” Fitzsimmons will say as she leaves us for work. “And when he shows sleep cues, make sure you play the Rockabye Baby music.” “Sleep cues,” I say, “Rockabye baby.” As if I need reminding about repetition.

I blame my parents. My mom said that when I was a baby, they made a rod for their own backs by creeping out of the bedroom backwards when I fell asleep. Three decades later, I can’t remember any of this routine, but I quite like the sound of it. The image of a snoozing baby on his crib seems faintly monarchic, as the courtier-parents retreat backwards, curtseying as they go. From where I stand as OC Dad, looking backwards and forwards, I’m conscious of a crossroads in the history of Hodgson routines. I feel like the Hamlet of novice dads: to repeat or not to repeat? Do I deny our son these simple behavioural guidelines because I fear his future? Or do I agree to Routines, knowing what might befall him?

My problem is that my own amateur autism is selective. I never seem to repeat sensible practices: do 100 sit-ups daily; drink four liters of water; be nice to my wife. Instead, it’s always random, daft stuff: eating crystallized ginger after every meal; cooking the same meals compulsively (linguine with garlic and pancetta); watching Spies Like Us on YouTube.

Sam’s needs have prompted freaky new OC Dad iterations. My latest idiocy is to help him burp. He has reflux, baby heartburn, so I’ve evolved a method of winding him, by stalking around the apartment with a herky-jerky motion to release those tricky gastric bubbles. Yesterday, while carrying him, I caught sight of myself in the mirror and I was ashamed. I looked like a rooster with too-tight underwear. Or Richard Pryor ‘gettin’ bad’ as he prances into prison in Stir Crazy. Still, every time I do it, Sam eventually burps, so I think the herky-jerky jive turkey is here to stay. When Fitzsimmons left for work this morning, she handed me a stack of parenting books with yellow tags on the Routine pages. I’ve yet to find my new technique in any of them. I’m not sure why.

Simon Hodgson

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