Issue 48

How to Deal with a Neurotic Parent


                I’ve been told Colorado is cold.  In fact, I was told emphatically by my friend Claire that I should bring plenty of warm clothes for Skylar during our visit for Kaitlin’s baptism.

                “Shut the door,” Claire said when I first arrived at her front door.  “You’re letting all the cold air in.”  She turned the thermostat up three degrees.  “I don’t want Kaitlin to catch cold.”

                I don’t understand it.  I went from a heated airport to a heated car to a heated house.  When, exactly, do I need these warm clothes?

                In a word, Claire is neurotic.  I mean this in a loving way because I love Claire but listening to her talk about the right way to raise a child...  Let me put it this way: She once accused me of child abuse because I let my house fall to 69 degrees.

                The alarm in the kitchen goes off.  “Paul?” Claire calls to her husband as she resets the alarm, “will you get Kaitlin’s bottle ready?”  Claire pulls out the log book and enters the time.  I peek over her shoulder.  The feeding times are exactly four hours apart.  “Sometimes we have to wake her for the 3am feeding,” she says.

                I look at her, aghast.  Wake a sleeping baby?

                I remember reading that book, the one that said your baby should go no longer than four hours without eating.  Claire keeps the book on the shelf with about thirty others, all heavy flagged with post-its.  Rebecca and I stored our copy in the fireplace.

                Paul takes what appears to me a perfectly clean bottle and places it in a large metal box that takes up half of the total kitchen counter space.  Emblazoned on the door are words like “Sanitizer”, “Reverse-Osmosis”, and “Ozonator”.

                 “Paul,” Claire says very seriously as steam pours out of the sanitizer, “did you change Kaitlin’s diaper today?”  A pained look crosses Paul’s face.

                The problem with babies is that they can’t tell you what’s wrong when they hurt, and there are few ways to reliably measure symptoms.  One popular method to monitor a baby’s health is to count diapers.

                “Paul,” Claire says, “you have to remember.  I’ve got four ounces I can’t account for.”

                But merely counting diapers is an inexact science.  Yesterday Claire proudly described her system to me.  “She’s supposed to poop three times a day, right?  But how do you count it if there’s only half a poop?”  She put her finger up in the air for emphasis.  “We weigh what goes in and we weigh what comes out.”

                Paul’s brain comes through for him.  “Yes,” he says.  “Yes, I did change her.  It was 3.95 ounces.”

                Squeezing the diapers dry, Claire explained to me, turned out to not be very accurate, especially with the superabsorbent diapers.  Weighing does a much better job, especially if you tare the diaper, subtracting the weight before use from the weight after.  Claire has the created the most amazing changing station you can imagine, complete with a five-point safety harness to hold Kaitlin to the table while Claire weighs the diaper out and logs the entry.

                “What about precipitation and humidity?” I asked.

                “The house is always a perfect 72 degrees,” explained Claire.  “That makes the calculation easier.”

                Claire nestles Kaitlin lovingly in the crook of her arm as Paul hands her the bottle, steamed to the perfect temperature.  “You might want to get ready to leave for the baptism,” she says to me. “Make sure you wear something warm.”

                As we drive to the church, I wonder what I’m getting myself into.  As Godfather, I’m about to bond myself to this little baby for life and, as a consequence, her mother.  I become Kaitlin’s guardian if anything happens to her parents.  I’m not sure I’m up to weighing diapers.

                The church is large and silent with an echo.  The small crowd of family gathers around the baptismal font.  Claire breaks out a plastic box and places a probe in the water.

                “Checking the temperature?” I ask her in a stage whisper.

                “And the pH,” she replies.

                In an odd way I understand where Claire is coming from. Good parenting is more or less protecting a child from killing him or herself, and every parent has a different way of doing the best he or she can.  Every day I have doubts about whether I’m not trying hard enough or if I’m trying so hard that I’m doing permanent psychological damage to my son. But after I’ve been around Claire for a few days, these doubts disappear and I feel much better.

                After all, there’s nothing like a good dose of another parent’s neurosis to make you feel normal again.


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