At eight months, Fin has taken a turn for the mysterious. Who can know the ways of Fin in his babyness? Who can know the source of the straight-faced, emotionless screams that fly from his open maw? Who can say where he goes when he is inexplicably replaced by his evil twin — the crier, the complainer, the baby unsatisfied with the quality of care he is receiving? "I would like my baby back, please," says Deirdre to the howling imp in her arms, but, scamp that he is, he can be slow in returning. we are left at the mercy of this strange and foreign baby, a baby not mollified by the breast, or chamomile (For teething), or toys, or hugs, or Da's pen, or any of the things that quell the raging Fin.
In fairness to the boy, I should note that the imp's appearances are few and often short-lived. Fin's temperament is mellow most of the time, received, no doubt, from his easygoing Kansas City Midwest mother and his Californian surroundings, not his uptight Upstate New York Da. What is more, she has imparted to him her fondness for pickles and yogurt. At least he looks like me — I think. The edges of my stamp upon his features are blurring, and people say they see Deirdre.
Who can contemplate him, now that he is an object in motion? His explosion into the automotive world occurred not so long ago, but as with most milestones, it is hard to remember life before it. I can recall without effort his attempts at rolling over, one self-pinned arm keeping him from success. I can picture him sitting in a bouncy seat on our table as we eat dinner, eyeing our food with impotent desire from a safe distance. After that, I have to reach back, confident that there was a time before crawling, just as I am confident that there was a time before Fin.
His crawling is mechanical, methodical, reminiscent of the slow-quick plodding of a monitor lizard. An arm rises with lazy, cold-blooded slowness, followed by a sudden flop forward. A pause, and then the other arm follows. His legs shuffle along behind, content to keep up and push. This is his usual manner, the all-fours equivalent of a man taking a stroll through a place whose limits and stability he knows well, though Fin will sometimes sprint if the occasion warrants it and sometime begin just crawling and crying (more inscrutable judgments).
Crawling has empowered Fin. Left to himself, he returns to the place where he remembers being always happy, the tub, half pulling himself over the edge, gazing at the green plastic turtle whose head he so loves to mouth as he sits beneath Mama or Da's showering self, one hand free to slap the surface of the pooing water in accord with his interior rhythm.
Or he explores the realms that before now have seen only in glimpses — the insides of kitchen cabinets, revealed for a second by Mama, then hidden again behind an off-white barrier. We have thwarted his expeditions t the lands of Trash and Cleaning Agents, but the pots below the stove top are his to clang and clatter. He has developed a special fondness for our enamel blue tea kettle. Or he will yield to his instinctive love of danger and head for the electrical cords. Attempts to discipline him with a firm "No!" and a gentle slap on the hand are met with big-mouthed grins and laughter.
We have tried to prepare for him. The shelves that stored our spirits and barware have given way to a wirefront cabinet. Our rectangular wrought-iron glass-top coffee table has been moved to my garage/office; in its place stands a cornerless wooden circle. We bought a bed rail, but our mattress is too thick; the rail barely rises above it. This is a problem, since we still employ the family bed — Fin drifts off to sleep while nursing. In the early days, all he could do upon waking was cry for us to come get him. When he could roll, we boxed him in with pillows, and the cry came. And even after the crawling began, the shock of waking up brought the cries that brought us in time, until....
The main character of William Kennedy's novel Ironweed is Francis Phelan, a ruined wreck of a man whose slide from happy normality began when he accidentally dropped his 13-day-old son Gerald on the floor and killed him. The guilt was too much; he deserted his wife and children. I read the book long before I became a father, but I never forgot that part of it. One day, the post-nap cry was a scream, and when Deirdre got to the bedroom before me, I heard her say, "Oh, Fin!" He had landed on his forehead and cheek, and while no real harm was done, we are careful to keep within earshot of the monitor, listening for the rustle of sheets. Plans are being made to line the floor with pillows.
He has bonked himself other times — on coffee tables, on the end table that supports our TV, and on the floor, twisting down and around as he loses his grip and falls. And there have been many near-misses. While he is standing and pounding on the coffee table, his legs fold, and his chin whispers past the edge — close enough to trim the whiskers he is years from having.
A happier note: mobility makes it easier for me to engage him to play, which is where a father shines. He likes fleeing from Da, crawling at top speed while I crawl above him. He likes attempting to get at something I'm guarding, like my glasses. I crouch over the treasure on all fours, turning to face him as he circles me, cackling. When he lunges, I lower my head and butt him away, sending him sprawling. Undaunted, he charges again.