The comments from parents started accumulating. They were typically delivered through fake baby talk directed at my son but were clearly aimed at me.
“There’s your friend Christopher, the little bruiser,” said one mom.
“Are you guys going to play nice today?” asked another while eyeing my son.
Then there was the call from the daycare supervisor. “Mr. Shields, there is no need to be alarmed, but we wanted to call to your attention that Christopher bit someone today.”
While my son’s obvious pattern of baby-on-baby violence was certainly concerning, perhaps more alarming was my first reaction. “Cool,” I thought.
I really strive not to be a competitive parent. I didn’t get envious when a friend’s child moved onto sippy cups faster than Christopher (I was reasonably certain that he would eventually master using straws – in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever met any adult that can’t). After doctor’s visits, I don’t run out and brag about his development like other parents (his head size is in the 95th percentile!).
But Christopher, from around the three-month mark, has always been big for his age. He was wearing 12-month clothes at six months. Based on his grandparents’ scientific assessments, he is projecting to be 6-foot-4 and NFL-ready. At a certain point during his daycare tenure, he went from being the docile baby sleeping in the corner to throwing his weight around. When the daycare attendants write in his daily reports that we “had to speak to Christopher again today about using ‘nice hands’ and not pulling hair,” instead of feeling mortified, I kind of got off on it. What the hell is wrong with me?
At first, Christopher’s rapid growth and heavy appetite was just a source of amusement among family members. Look at the beast suck down that formula! Please don’t bite mommy’s boob, baby. Those NB onesies are already too small? How much did he weigh at the doctor?
But as Christopher started getting older, his size and strength started becoming a weird source of pride – at least for me. “You’re damn right he can already roll over!” I thought. “We’ve really emphasized the tummy time from day one, and it’s clearly paying off.”
When we got his daycare class picture, in which Christopher wears a stark frown and a cut on his cheek, we were thrilled rather than appalled. Naturally, baby badass is framed on my desk at work. I love the comments from co-workers.
Christopher’s daycare friend – the boy whose parents made the remark about playing nice – is about his age but is much smaller. This kid never learned to crawl – and doesn’t walk yet at 12 months (Christopher was walking at ten months). Instead, this baby, let’s call him Caden, does this weird scoot thing that seems like a cross between a frog jump and a dog wiping himself on the carpet. Man, did this make me feel superior whenever Caden’s parents get to see Christopher walking around (and probably pushing around) their kid. It’s not as though I deserve any credit. I haven’t been reading up on how to get your baby to walk early, nor have I put him through basic training drills at the jungle gym – God knows I’m too lazy for that. He’s just a strong kid who is developing physically quickly (even though his language skills are not).
Maybe that explains some of my perverse satisfaction from Christopher’s heft. On one level it’s plain insulting to hear from parents that your kid is viewed as the playroom brute, especially when they are so passive-aggressive about it. It’s not his fault – as if you can control the impulses of your toddler.
But on a deeper level, maybe I feel like we deserved some luck with Christopher. When my wife was going into labor, she was hit with preeclampsia, for which she received a steady stream of magnesium. Thus, when he was born, Christopher immediately was rushed to intensive care to get calcium via an IV. A subsequent IV infiltration led to a serious burn on Christopher’s left hand, an ambulance transfer, five days in the hospital, and multiple visits to a plastic surgeon.
Then, after coming home from the hospital, we were hit with three months of severe colic, which nearly ruined our first impressions of parenthood.
So with Christopher built to kick ass and take baby names, there is probably a sense of “Hey, at least we got a break with something. At least he’s okay on this front.” Maybe Christopher isn’t going to have to worry about being the scrawny kid in school, instead being the big guy everyone likes (or fears – wait, no, I don’t want that).
But maybe this intense fatherly pride is really about misplaced redemption. You probably won’t be surprised to hear that I was in fact bullied and mocked in school growing up. I was far from athletic. I was pushed around at times – or simply dismissed. I wonder if I’m simply projecting my school fantasies onto Christopher, hopeful that he won’t have to experience the same “look-at-the-nerd-who-can’t-do-a-pull-up” tragedies that I did. We all want to protect our kids from the suffering we experienced. I just might be taking it a bit far.
But all joking aside, I know that life is more than just fitting in socially, and I look forward to being able to be proud of him for all the other things – large and small – that he does in life. (Like, say, using a spoon to eat faster than that annoying little girl at daycare. Ha!). I also realize that what has been funny and pride-inducing at daycare is starting to get just a little bit embarrassing in public settings, like when Christopher greets my friend’s six-month-old by grabbing her face.
But for now, former-dork Daddy loves having a little bruiser, even if he is the terror of the sandbox.