Zoë had never taken a bottle. We had a plan to change this. One day Elise went to her office on campus for the morning and left me and Zoë alone. We thought it would be easier to give Zoë a bottle when Elise’s breasts were not in the vicinity. >I held Zoë in my arms as I warmed the milk and talked with her softly about the fantastic thing she would soon experience. Then I sat in the rocking chair, leaned her back, and inserted the nipple. As the nipple went into Zoë’s mouth, a sound came out that might be comparable to what would happen if I tried to feed her a cattle prod. This was unnerving. I moved her to another position, turned on some classical music, tried again. The cattle prod wasn’t working. Our morning turned into a downward spiral of screams and spilled milk and snot. I was doing something terribly wrong; and I would have to do it again.
Round two came two days later, once Zoë and I had both recovered. Elise went to campus, leaving us alone again. I heated the milk, prepared the soothing nursing environment and inserted the cattle prod. Zoë started bellowing immediately. Again I changed positions, but her crying only intensified. I held her too tightly and she pooped and I ran upstairs and changed her diaper, her legs straight and quivering. And because she was on her back, she threw up what little milk had gotten into her and gagged and started shrieking as if I was killing her, which I sort of felt like I was, or at least like I wanted to. So I shoved a pacifier into her mouth, which only made her throw up more. I had completely lost my cool. She was furious. I was furious. She was screaming, I was screaming inside. My jaw felt like it was made of steel. Finally, I went for a walk outside, as I figured it would be more difficult for me to strangle my daughter and dispose of her body in view of the neighbors.
Parenting is not a competition I am having with Elise, but I do know that if it is one, it is one that I am losing. She’s got the biological edge (who wouldn’t prefer Elise’s breasts?), so I know Zoë’s rejection of me isn’t personal. But Elise also has something essential that I do not have. She has the ability to deal with frustration, while I am a hair-trigger away from disaster. I can’t shake the feeling that Zoë is onto this – that this is, in fact, personal. I think Zoë senses my frustration and feeds off it as opposed to the milk in the bottle. And what baby would respond to a father who says, “Drink the damn milk, please!”?