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The Daddy Diaries: Garage Therapy

On hard days, a South City dad finds solace in an unlikely place.

I just need five minutes. 

I take a seat on the concrete floor, lean my back against the washing machine, and close my eyes as I try to catch my breath. Though it's chilly out here and the air smells of paint thinner and fabric softener, the garage has become my sanctuary—the one place in our house where I can escape the sound of Gregory's ear-piercing cries. It's been a hard day, and so I've come here for just a few moments of solace.

For the most part our son is a pretty happy kid, but sometimes in the late afternoon he starts getting really cranky and nothing I do seems to soothe him. By four or five o'clock we're both pretty exhausted, but I seem to be the only one who wants to take a nap. And despite my best efforts to make sure he's fed and dry and comforted, some days he just breaks down into a screaming mess of tears, drool and snot.

When I'm well rested and in a normal mood, I can handle these meltdowns with tenderness and humor, but at the end of a long day when I'm fatigued and irritated, I find I begin to lose patience with my son. As his cries crescendo, so my anger begins to boil up inside me. 

I've learned to recognize that when I feel this anger rising, it's time to take a break. I never want to interact with my son in the heat of anger. And though it may seem heartless, the best thing I can do at this moment is to simply set my screaming child in his crib, close his bedroom door behind me, and head out to the garage. 

I just need five minutes.

The first order of business is get this pent-up frustration out of me. There's a broomstick I keep next to an old rolled-up piece of carpet and, with the stick firmly clinched in my hands, I begin taking huge whacks against the rug. Most days it only requires about five or six swings to get my aggression out, but on really hard days it may take a baker's dozen. 

Between swings, I realize that I'm not really angry at Gregory—after all, he's just a baby. For me the frustration comes as I feel absolutely powerless to calm or comfort my child. It's humbling to realize that I'm not in control of things like I thought I was.

Once I'm winded I drop the broomstick and take a seat against the washing machine. I'm not sure if I feel better now or just too exhausted to notice. I close my eyes and try to bring a little perspective back to the situation.

Though it sounds obvious, I have to remind myself that babies are not just small adults: what is normal behavior for an infant is not normal behavior for an older person. It's kind of like saying that a caterpillar is just a small butterfly. Plus, I'm sure I would be pretty grumpy too if my gums always hurt, I couldn't blow my own nose, no one could understand a word I said, and I had more than doubled my body weight in just ten months. It's hard work being a baby. 

My five minutes are up.

After a short prayer, I rise from the cold concrete floor and head back into the house. As I draw near to his room, I can hear that he is still crying. Nothing about the situation has changed except, hopefully, my attitude is just a little bit better now. When I enter his room, he's standing in his crib looking up at me with huge tears streaming down his puffy cheeks. It's sad but I also can't help but laugh a little. 

"Oh, my little buddy," I say as I lift him into my arms. He leans his head into my chest and continues to sob, though a bit softer now. I'm thankful that babies are so forgiving.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Heidi Beck January 27, 2012 at 03:34 PM
Mark, these columns are going to be so priceless to your son someday! You are one loving and insightful Daddy (and a darn good writer!). Thanks for another terrific column.
Chris Corbett January 27, 2012 at 06:24 PM
Good work! You should get a paid gig somewhere. Maybe The AP will take notice where we can get you syndicated!
Mark Cox January 27, 2012 at 07:00 PM
Thanks, Heidi, for the encouragement; but honestly, on days like this one, I don't always feel like a loving daddy. It is nice to capture these moments-- both good and bad-- and to consider that someday my son will be able to read these and have a sense of what his first year of life was like. That's kind of cool!
Mark Cox January 27, 2012 at 07:17 PM
That's flattering, Chris, but I fear if it were an actual job that the pressure would ruin it for me. I'm so thankful to Patch and to Drew for allowing me the opportunity to post these musing on daddy life, and there's a certain freedom about not getting paid. Who needs money, anyway?! (Uhm, did I mention the price of diapers?) Perhaps when I've come to the end of the articles (either on Gregory's first birthday or whenever I feel I've run out of things to say) I may see about compiling these diaries into a book or something...?
Drew Himmelstein (Editor) January 27, 2012 at 08:55 PM
I can't wait for the blog post on Gregory's first birthday. What a milestone.
Chris Corbett January 27, 2012 at 09:41 PM
You're welcome!
Melissa Hastings January 28, 2012 at 04:47 PM
When I used to baby-sit my nephews and niece while they were little, I got angry sometimes at them when they did not obey me. One night, I went into my nephews room and screamed "Shut the *&@ up!". I immediately was mortified with myself. I thought "I have used swear words, lost my temper, been unedifying and worse of all, probably scared the little guys to death. I was near tears. I heard nothing but silence for a moment. Then, I heard a snicker. Then I heard both of them losing it, laughing at me. The two boys laughed at me for at least 5 minutes. I walked out of there, shut the door and just let them do what they wanted. They finally fell asleep 20 minutes later after a good laugh at me. They enjoy re-living this story when I remind them to this day. I can remember feeling my ego taking a really beating when they were laughing at me. I have to hand it to you parents. Yours is the toughest job out there. Your ego takes a beating too day in and day out.
Chris Corbett January 28, 2012 at 05:22 PM
Melissa, being a parent or caretaker of children is incredibly difficult at times. Some days are great, of course, but it is a rollercoaster ride that I'll never get off, as it's worth every penny, every professional sacrifice, every fight, and every ebb and flow.
Mark Cox January 29, 2012 at 04:13 AM
That's a hilarious story, Melissa! It's nice to know I'm not the only one that loses it from time to time. I hope your ego is doing better and that you can laugh a little yourself about this whole scene-- what a great memory (even if it was hard at that moment). Thanks.
Chris Corbett January 29, 2012 at 04:49 AM
Ha ha. You guys lose it from time to time? I wish I were that good! When don't I lose it is the more operative question!

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