Monday, June 15, 2009

STI: Zombie dad's night rites

June 14, 2009

Zombie dad's night rites

By Colin Goh

First things first: Thank you for the deluge of e-mails in response to my last column, about my struggles with the contents of my newborn daughter's diaper.

I was heartened to hear so many of you confirm that the traditional 'shee-shee' potty training technique works. I was particularly amused to receive e-mails from several Teochew readers bemoaning the aural similarity between the Teochew word for sleep ('ngh') and the, um, pre-pooping grunt. I guess we Teochews know something about diapers. After all, that ancient bit of doggerel: ''Teochew nang, ka-chng ang-ang' ('Teochew people, their buttocks are red'), must have come from somewhere.

A good number of you also sent 'So what's fatherhood like outside of diaperchanging?' queries. To which I can say, my experience is like something out of the movies.

Specifically, zombie movies.

I'm no stranger to burning the midnight oil. All my previous jobs have entailed extended periods of working for days without sleep.

But even though I was warned by friends with kids to prepare for sleep deprivation, I hadn't anticipated the distinct strain of brain-deadness that comes with baby-care, with your consciousness randomly weaving in and out of your head as you robotically repeat a set of purely reflexive responses.

Baby cry. Stumble to crib. Pick her up. Shamble to changing station. Unwrap diaper. Wince. Wipe. Change diaper. Warm milk. Fend off baby's attempts to bite my nipple. Feel sense of paternal self-worth eroding as she expresses her clear disappointment that, tsk, it's the bottle dude, not the booby lady. Feed her. Burp her. Wipe up spit-up. Change diaper again. Sing and rock her to sleep. Wonder how come I know the full lyrics to so few songs. Wonder if it'll give her some future neurosis if I keep singing her Comfortably Numb by Pink Floyd. Wonder how come I still know the words to Semoga Bahagia from primary school, but still have no idea what they mean. Swaddle. Replace in crib (if she allows me). Sterilise bottles for next feeding. Rinse. Repeat. Do not pass 'Go'. Do not collect $200.

My zombified mood is perhaps exacerbated by the fact that I volunteered for the night shift. You need to get proper sleep, I told the Wife, because you have to be healthy and produce all that milk for the baby. So I'll handle all feedings and changings between 11pm and 6am, no problem.

Why, it'll be just like my old swinging batang days again. Except it's not. Wiping bottoms bears very little resemblance to eating prata with friends, even when done at the same hours of the night.

The fact is, there's something surreal about the dead of night. The place you only think you know takes on strange aspects.

Every night at 3am, as I feed Yakuza Baby, I peer through my window and observe the nightlife: the Chinese restaurant workers returning from work, cigarettes invariably dangling from their lips, the garbage collectors, a drunken Korean businessman stumbling home after a bulgogi-and-soju nightcap at the nearby 24-hour barbecue joint, the neighbour's daughter sneaking out to meet her boyfriend, stray cats sniffing around my garbage can, and even once, a pair of feuding raccoons.

I've lived in this neighbourhood in Queens, New York, for over two years now, but it's like seeing a whole new place nearly every night.

But anthropologically interesting though staring out the window can often be, National Geographic it's not, and I wonder: There must be something more productive I can do at the same time as I feed Yakuza Baby, before my brain really rots and I become an actual member of the living dead.

I can't really read or work, because all the lights are kept too low. Besides, those require a free hand, something also crucial for watching TV. That's because you absolutely need the ability to change channels with late, late night American TV, when the weird shows and even weirder commercials come out.

My latest addiction is a borderline creepy Korean reality show called Tracking Your Ex-Boyfriend, which is basically an exercise in stalking. But because it has subtitles, I can watch it with the sound off and thus not rouse the baby.

So since you folks were so kind as to share your tips for dealing with poop, perhaps you can tell me: Do you have any suggestions (preferably based on real parental experience) for how one might multitask with a baby in one arm and a bottle in another?

E-mail me at: This zombie daddy needs your brains.

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