The Mother of All Awkward or How To Bite a Ten-Month-Old
Demure Becomes You, acrylic, antique cookbook, cardboard on canvas, 60″x60″, 2007, Stuart Sheldon
We all have ex lovers. Encountering them later in life, when the wheel has turned, takes us to strange places.
My wife’s ex-boyfriend and his wife had us over for brunch one sunny Sunday when Kai was 10 months. Jodi dated this charming, barrel-chested man for quite some time. And his quick wit, passionate eyes and clear love for his own 10-month-old boy induced a kinship in me. Still, as we sipped mimosas and the tots crawled amongst the multi-hued, Playskool sprawl, I sensed he still had a thing for her.
I did my best to smile and engage, though I was mostly bored when we sat down to a lovely spread served on wedding gift trays. The ex sat at one end of the table and I at the other, with our wives on either side of the middle and the boys in highchairs. Their adorable son sat no more than a foot from me, and a few bites into my bagel and lox, he and I began a serious game of peek-a-boo.
I’m feeling pretty connected with my new pal, as our peek-a-boo game morphed into “I’m gonna eat you!” where he’d stick his pudgy fingers, all gooey with spit, close to my face, and I’d open my mouth and pretend to chomp them like an alligator. Giggle. Open. Chomp. Giggle. Repeat.
As the adults chatted, I took a sip from my champagne glass and turned back to my smiling cohort. His hand was out, his eyes eager. I opened my mouth and leaned slowly forward, then lunged and bit down. Only this time, he failed to remove his hand in time. I’ll never forget that look, incredulity defined. How could you do such a thing to a friend his eyes implored for several beats … till replaced by a shattering scream. Mother bear jumped up and scooped the wounded cub whose tender paw bore clear bite marks.
The ex looked at me with a slight head tilt that said, it’s bad enough you snagged the chick I loved. Now you need to attack my kid. What kind of asshole bites a baby?
I’ve suffered no shortage of curl-up-and-die moments in my life, but this was new terrain. “I accidentally bit his fingers,” I stammered. “We were playing a game … I can’t believe it … We were playing … and I was pretending to bite him and then his hand …” I couldn’t finish my thoughts, still in disbelief myself. Jodi looked at me with a mix of revulsion, curiosity and dark humor.
This comedy of errors reminded me of the five blind men that petted different parts of the elephant. The one touching the trunk thought elephants were long and snaky. The one on the tusks thought they were hard and pointy … and so on. Limited perspective will do that. Jodi’s ex did not know me well at all. In effect, all he got to touch was my teeth.
I’m a baby expert. Ask me anything!
I spent the first two years of my son’s life as a full-time, stay-at-home daddy. Diapers, bottles, pinkie in the mouth, BabyCenter.com, Gymboree, Happiest Baby On the Block … been there, swaddled that. We even made our own organic baby food. Me hurting a baby is like Mother Teresa bitch-slapping a leper.
Stay-at-home daddy – I got this.
The shrieking and my feckless apologizing eventually abated, and we resumed our meal under an unspoken pall of how much longer till the baby biter freak gets the hell outta here. Not surprisingly, we were not invited back.
To ex lovers of Jodi or mine I say, thank you for the wisdom our interactions provided on this arduous journey of the heart.
And should we meet again, please know that I’ve bitten no children since.