“It’s chaos,” I said. Then: “I’ll call you back.” There was poop on the couch and, I’d just noticed, on my pants. I put the phone down and reached for the towel – nope, poop on that, too. The fresh towels were in the bathroom and the diaper I needed was upstairs. My left hand was pinned in the tub under the baby; crimson splotches arose on her eyebrows in a way that indicated that in seconds she’d be letting me know in no uncertain terms that bath time was done.
For the last month I’ve been on primary child care duty with my three-month-old while my partner worked, which meant getting up at 3 a.m. and getting bread work done until 7, dropping the Baby-o off at her Mammie’s so I could snatch some more work time from 8 until noon, physically moving with the baby from noon until 4 p.m., making dinner and catching up on life duties until 8, snatching sleep between diaper changes and feedings from 8 until 3, then starting the whole thing over again.
The most interesting window was always the noon until 4 slot, which involved truck rides and walks, their length dependent on how much Luella had slept in the last 48 hours, how much she’d eaten, the moon phase, the barometric pressure, you get the idea. Truck rides and walks are lumped in together because they’re both verbs – she didn’t like sitting still, so there needed to be an action component. In different contexts, rural truck rides and long walks can be charming and relaxing, but with a three-month-old they’re mission-driven. They feel less like a country western song and more like an exodus.
Fortunately, for much of the month there were morels to find, and so pretty much every afternoon we’d go out hunting. Rain or shine. There was a lot more rain than shine it seemed, but fortunately that meant a fabulous mushroom crop – one of the best I can ever remember. Picture a curious forest scene where a hunched figure meanders through pushing a mud-covered stroller. Or the same figure with a cloth-wrapped protrusion on his chest, the bird song in the scene mixed with utterances that involved the letter G then a hard vowel, or snippets of nonsensical human song. We picked around 150 morels from dozens of different flushes in a three-town radius, and if you count the ones we left for others, or discovered when they were too small to pick or too big and overripe, the number was at least twice that. These numbers won’t sound very impressive to a dogged forager, but considering we were limited by the logistical constraints of a three-month-old, they felt triumphant to me. While we searched we also stumbled upon the antler sheds from three different deer. There are plenty of stories out there that contain tips on shed hunting – we’ve published some of them – but none to my knowledge suggest a strategy that involves first conceiving a child and then signing yourself up for baby duty.
Anyway, morel season ended a couple weeks ago where I live, right around the time the forest understory filled out, which also ended the good shed hunting. Last week, Luella started to change, too. She started calming down a little bit, settling when you put her on your lap. We sat around a campfire last weekend and she just stared at the flames for a good long time, her little hand clasped around my index finger, her little arms and legs still. I noticed how big she was getting – this tiny 6-pound wisp of a newborn now a chunky 15-pound mass. Two or three feedings and diaper changes a night were down to one. Her other grandma was on her way out for a two-week stint of childcare, which would lead us into my partner’s summer vacation from teaching, which meant my days were going to be mine again. It felt like a victory – this last long month something I overcame. I was one step closer to the fun part of fatherhood as I’d imagined it; that much closer to a little being who could actively participate in our excursions.
That night I lay half asleep in bed as my partner breastfed the baby, and I heard her – heard my partner – start to cry. I thought at first it was because she was worn too thin by the relentlessness of everything, but when I put my hand on her leg she said: “It’s just going too fast. She’s already so big. We won’t ever get this back.”
I pictured Luella as we’d gathered mushrooms – little light breaths as she slept wrapped against me, the way her barely-there eyelashes shown red in the afternoon light – and that sense of victory I’d felt earlier was replaced by a sense of loss. I meant to say something encouraging, but my eyes welled, too, and whatever I was going to say was gone.