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It was 2:30 in the morning. I was trying to be a hero. I confirmed I'm not.
"C'mon, Hope!" I snapped, the dribbles of milk squirting out the sides of her mouth; the inconsolable tears complementing her wails. She was one hour into a two-hour fit. "Gimme a break! You can't be this upset! Stop exaggerating!"
I love my daughter like crazy. At that point, I'm ashamed to admit I didn't like her very much. I tried everything. Cooing. Oohing. Ahhing. Patting and cajoling. Nothing worked. Deep in the night, fighting sleep, I felt like a failure.
I volunteered for an extra feeding shift to help Mo get a solid six hours. Instead, the dog started barking, the cats were whining and Hope wouldn't stop crying. Mo awoke to me ordering the dog to "GET!" No one was happy. It was frightening because it confirmed a few things that are tough to admit. My little girl's beauty won't magically cure my grouchiness. And my parenting skills need some work.
Somehow, I'd deluded myself into thinking that being a funny uncle and cool guy to drink beer with would make me a great Dad. When I fantasized about fatherhood, I was always giving poignant advice, making hilarious fart noises and letting the kid win at Candyland. The daydreams didn't involve techniques to help her pass gas or neck angles to ease her wheezy breathing.
Feedings are huge to us. Hope isn't going gangbusters with weight gain. She's still about 4 pounds, 2 ounces. So we need to wake her every three hours to try to force a bit more food down her grape-sized stomach.
Feeding is a major pain with CdLS kids. Some can never coordinate drinking from a bottle and need to have tubes surgically implanted to their stomachs.
So the fact that Hope can figure out this breathe-suck-swallow trifecta is encouraging, but some days are better than others. Sometimes, she sucks it down like a champ, falls asleep on my shoulder and listens to my rambling life lessons ("The Detroit Tigers have significant holes in 2008." "Kitties are furry and fun to pet.") Other times, it's a struggle. She cries like crazy when I pick her up, kicks it up a notch when I change her diaper, then goes into full-on "Don't Mess with Me, Buster" mode when I feed her. She'll straighten her legs, try to wiggle away, cry some more and shoot me bad-juju, hoodoo voodoo evil eyes. A good portion of the milk from the bottle dribbles out her mouth. She'll forget to breathe and turn blue or spit up through her nose. She'll fall asleep mid-feed or get a gas bubble stuck in her stomach that drives her batty.
There are times, blurred by sleep deprivation, that I conclude, "I have no idea what I'm doing. My daughter is only a month old and already hates me."
Mo is much better. It can still be a challenge, but she is adept at picking up on Hope's cues, reading her body language and anticipating her needs. So far, I've tried to compensate for my lack of innate skills by volunteering for lots of errands. But I realize that Hope doesn't care how many times I go to Kroger, fix the garage door or update the blog.
It's a blow to the ego, but I have to conclude I'm just not a natural at this stuff. So I woke up Sunday morning and did something else that doesn't come naturally.
"Hey, I feel terrible about last night," I told Mo. "You're good at feeding her. Maybe you could help me improve."