Teething

If you were teething you'd punch your dad in the testicles, too

The Debaters' Steve Patterson on why babies get a free pass on behaviour we wouldn't tolerate from anyone with a full set of chompers.

The following is an excerpt from Dad Up! by Steve Patterson. Copyright © 2021. Reprinted with the permission of Penguin Random House Canada.

So far in her young life, Norah has not been bullied. I believe this will continue to be the case because, as a Leo, she is already exhibiting lion-like qualities.

As Norah’s parents, we have been very patient. After all, we had excellent training during Scarlett’s babyhood. Also, Scarlett, for the most part, has been a very caring big sister who understands that Norah is a baby and doesn’t know what she’s doing when she grabs our hair, sticks her fingers in our eyes, or in my case, rips my reading glasses off my face and throws them to the floor at every possible opportunity.

Scarlett might believe this is just normal baby behaviour. But I’m not so sure.

Is Norah just being a baby, or is she going completely alpha to establish her dominance over our household? I mean, who rips reading glasses off someone’s face, throws them on the floor, then smiles as if to say, “What are you going to do about it?” Who grasps a cup of water, looks at you, and when you say, “Don’t throw that!” laughs like a maniac and gleefully chucks it at your face? Who goes up to someone who is sitting down, minding his own business, and punches him right in the testicles?

Sure, she technically can’t form a fist or make a punching motion (yet), plus as far as I know, she is unaware of the male anatomy (which, if I have my way, will remain the case well into her twenties). But honestly, I sometimes think that Norah knows exactly what she is doing and is enjoying all the “she doesn’t know what she’s doing” time that she can. Sure, she’s playing. But it’s a power play for control of the house.

To be fair, as I write this, Norah is teething, which, if I were going through it, would probably make me want to punch people in the testicles too. Of all the baffling things in human development, the way that teeth come in has to be the most inexplicable (and painful). Imagine you’re a baby with nice soft gums that you have just gotten used to smacking together to make a percussive sound that only you can truly appreciate. Then suddenly, those gum-drums of yours are penetrated by sharp projectiles that are apparently shooting up from INSIDE your own mouth, and by the way, are attached to you now. That’s not anatomy—that’s a horror movie! So babies react in the way we all would in the face of such a terrifying situation: they scream at the top of their lungs! As a parent, you try to console your screaming baby by holding her close to you and reassuring her that it’s going to be okay. But your baby is understandably skeptical about that, because those arsehole teeth just keep coming in! As this drags on (for weeks and months, in fact), neither you nor your baby is actually sure things are ever going to be okay again.

This likely explains why Norah’s favourite thing to do while she is teething and I’m trying to console her is to put her hands in my mouth and try to rip my own teeth out. I keep telling myself she’s doing this because she believes she is saving me from pain—sort of a “Dad, those are the things that are attacking me from the inside! Let me rip those out for you and then you get mine out of me, okay?” But the defiant expression on her face sometimes tells a different story. The look seems to say, “it’s going to be okay, is it? Does THIS feel okay, old man? Huh? Does that feel okay to you?” Then she yanks on my front teeth like she’s a middle-aged dad trying to perform a proper chin-up for the first time in his life.

So yes, teething is tough and pretty much any behaviour a baby exhibits during this time can probably be chalked up to the pain and discomfort she’s going through. This is especially true when the teeth make their grand entrance while the baby is sleeping. Imagine if you were woken up by the pain of something stabbing you from inside your own mouth. You’d be pissed off and looking for someone— anyone—to attack. Which is especially bad news if you’re that baby’s mother and are sleeping beside her, with the main food source so temptingly close to her face.

Nancy has tried to explain to me what it’s like to be bitten on the nipple by a baby with new teeth, and while her explanations have been eloquent, I’m sure I still don’t quite comprehend it. For Norah, it’s simply a matter of getting used to these new body parts that have entered her life so painfully (and rudely). She does this by chomping down on a body part that is not hers but is very familiar to her. Compared to this, an accidental punch by a baby’s tiny hand to my (average-sized, I think) testicles is really nothing. Well, I mean it’s not “nothing,” but I can’t try to tell Nancy it’s in the same ballpark. Pun intended.

So teething babies get a pass on behaviour we wouldn’t tolerate from any adult or even any toddler with a full set of teeth. But I’m still not sure Norah isn’t milking this moment like, well, a baby chomping on a boob to get milk.

For instance, in addition to ripping the glasses off my face whenever they are within range of her tiny arm, Norah has also recently taken to ripping the remaining hairs out of the top of my head when I put her on my shoulders. She does this while screaming with delight (it’s a different scream than the teething scream, because she’s laughing while she does it). She has also taken to straight-arming me and Nancy like a Hall of Fame running back avoiding a tackle whenever she doesn’t want to go to sleep—which is always, because she never wants to go to sleep. In fact, sometimes she will lull me into thinking she’s almost asleep and then rouse herself to get away by pushing off me like she’s doing a backwards dive off a high cliff. This makes me hold on to her even tighter so she doesn’t dive head first into the floor, and then she responds by screaming out with the common baby call of “Mamamamamamamamamamamama,” which roughly translates to “Mother! This idiot is trying to put me to sleep. I’m not ready for sleep, obviously! It’s almost time for Saturday Night Live!”

The moment Nancy comes into the room, Norah basically jumps into her arms, smiles at me as if to say, “I told you she would come,” and stops screaming. Experts say this is because babies need their mothers much more than their fathers, especially when they’re teething. Those same experts also say, “She doesn’t mean anything by it— she’s just a baby.” But I can tell by the look in her eyes that this kid is playing me like a fiddle. And not the foot-stamping, hand-clapping, joy-filled fiddle you would hear on Canada’s East Coast. I mean like an out-of-tune, ominous fiddle from a horror movie soundtrack.

So sometimes, when Nancy can’t see or hear me, I will get right into baby Norah’s face and shout-whisper into her tiny ear, “Hey! I’m your dad. You’re a baby. You have to listen to me!”

And she will respond by ripping my glasses off my face and laughing like a maniac.

Steve Patterson is a stand-up comedian and the host of CBC Radio’s The Debaters and the web series The Smartass-ociates. His previous book is The Book of Letters I Didn’t Know Where to Send.