When you have a baby, the nurses will tell you a few key things at the hospital before discharging you, like don't shake your newborn and don't feed it pizza. That's all I remember. You're sent home with a little machine that makes fudge and screams. What they don't tell you is that your baby will learn, in predictable phases, to do everything we adults take for granted, like chew food, have a neck that works, and imitate Stewie from Family Guy.
Fortunately, Michelle found an app based on a book called The Wonder Weeks, which sends you an email every week telling you what to expect. Each passage is written in a fun upbeat way, like: "Week 18. Congrats! Your child is going through a new phase. He will scream all night for a while and poop in his pants."
I pointed out to Michelle that while the writers at The Wonder Weeks try to pretend that there is more to say, that's pretty much every phase for the first few hundred weeks. The writing is sort of like an astrology report in a free newspaper: Your baby can now drool. He will be on the lookout for new opportunities. Embrace bold moves. This is a good time to travel. Also this week will be a good time to buy some new shirts, as your old ones are covered in drool.
Eventually, the baby's growth spurts become dramatic. First your baby starts to notice things. Then he learns to make gurgling sounds, one day he gets his first teeth and starts to binge watch Orange is the New Black.
With each new phase, the app warns you that whatever new growth spurt your baby goes through will be accompanied by a regression. So for example, when the baby learns to crawl, he will begin cursing at you under his breath. When he first eats solid food, he will take up smoking cigarettes again. Once he learns to speak he will never shut up, ever.
I long ago accepted that one's job as father is essentially to be a pack mule with a wallet. And I'm okay with Lev's weird quirks, like the fact that he was Minnie Riperton in a past life, and now demands that we play the video for "Loving You" 30 times a day. Fine. The problem is that Lev is in a new phase this week, which the Wonder Weeks didn't tell us about. He has grown razor sharp talons where his adorable baby fingers used to be and has begun learning to use his opposable thumb and index finger. That's a great leap and part of what separates homosapiens from more primitive pre human species.
Ordinarily, I would be a proud father, thrilled that my son can now pinch. Unfortunately Lev has taken to using this newfound power to pinch my nipples. He literally pulled himself up to a standing position by holding onto my nipples like they were gymnastic rings. I thought they were going to come off.
I don't have very large nipples to begin with. Or at least, I didn't used to. Now they look like curly fries.
I woke up this morning and Lev had somehow made it from his crib into our bed and attached his claws to my nipples. I was still half asleep by the time he had mounted me and was sitting on my chest like a UFC fighter, with an ominous glare in his eyes.
He wasn't looking at me. He was looking through me with an expression that said, "This is it. I'm taking these things with me." He had gotten a hold of my left nipple and was twisting it in a spiral fashion that was causing me to shriek reflexively.
When a man has his nipples pinched for long enough, his mind starts to do strange things. I gasped and tried to ask Michelle for help. But she was too tired and one of her eyeballs was hanging out of its socket. Meanwhile, Levward Scissorhands just kept working his hands into my chest with the strength of the insane.
I was praying that somehow his next phase might be that his fingernails fell off and/or that we had bandaids. (Have you ever noticed how you never have bandaids when someone rips your nipples off?) I howled at Michelle for help but if you look up the word "schadenfreude" in the dictionary there's a picture of Michelle smiling at you because now you know how she feels, since Lev is still nursing despite having grown two brutally sharp shark teeth.
So anyway, I used to have nipples. They're vestigial anyway, and served no purpose. And now my shirts fit better. In the meantime, I'm enjoying The Wonder Weeks, taking Lev for strolls in Central Park. I feel like a child again myself, joining his sense of excitement and appreciation as he discovers the world.
Each moment is new for him, and as I observe him it reminds me to be fully present and open to the splendor of experiencing whatever is happening now. As I watch him take in new sights and sounds, my mind takes a cue from his endless curiosity, my chest swells with pride, and the place where my nipples used to be quietly throbs.
I'm really looking forward to the next phase, when the baby starts sleeping through the night. Or wearing oven mitts.
Whichever comes first.