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She Calls Me "Ma-Pa"
by Leon Baxter
TheSyndicatedNews columnist

My wife, Mary, and I are the type of parents who are of the belief that a baby cannot be “too breast-fed”. Well, actually, it’s my wife who’s of that belief. I’m more of the camp that believes that nursing is a godsend, because it keeps dads like me in bed during those midnight feedings.

I knew, though, that one day my cushy, eight-hour a night, peaceful journey on the Rapid-Eye-Movement Ferry would come to a glacier-crashing end. Not unlike the captain of the Titanic, I didn’t see it coming.

One day, over a cold bowl of rather enjoyable afternoon Captain Crunch, Mary told me she thought it was time to wean our daughter, Maya, from her middle of the night feedings. Sounded good to me, at first. The baby would learn to sleep through the night and my wife could catch-up on the much needed sleep she’d lost the last eighteen months. It was a slam dunk, a win-win situation... until I was informed I’d be a key player in this nighttime drama.

“You go in when she calls,” my wife continued.

“Wait, wait, wait. Whoa, whoa. Hold up! What do you mean me?” I sputtered as Crunch Berries made a hasty retreat down my chin.

“When she calls, I can’t go in,” she explained.

“Why not? She knows you. She won’t recognize me at 3 a.m.”

“If I go in she’ll expect milk...”

Then, my wife proceeded to rattle off pediatric mumbo-jumbo about nursing, lactation, and my apparent lack of breasts. She was just trying to confuse me and I understand why. She’s a desperate woman who’s been living on five hours of sleep a night. However, I refused to become befuddled by her crazy mother logic.

“Oh yeah, who says?” I asked in my best first grader voice.

She produced forty-two pounds of books, baby magazines and printed website pages that boiled down to...“Mom’s sleeping. It’s your turn, Pop.”

We started that night. I was terrified. I was so afraid that I’d lose my precious sleep, that I showered, laid out my clothes, shaved, had my breakfast prepared in the fridge for the next morning and crawled into bed all before the 6:00 news rolled credits.

I lay there, eyes squeezed tightly shut, yet sleep refused my slumber party invitation. I was scared to death of falling asleep because, although I didn’t want to stay up all night, for some reason the thought of actually falling asleep and then being woken up was a far worse torture. It was somewhere around nineteen thousand twenty something counted sheep when I realized there would be no rest until Maya and I had our showdown. So, there I lay... for five hours, until, “Mama!”

I crept to my daughter’s bedroom door. She sounded relieved when I opened it. I could almost hear the smile in her voice, “Mama.”

“It’s not Mama, Sweetie,” I stammered, “It’s me... Papa.”

Silence. I moved closer to the crib. My eyes began to get accustomed to the dark. Maya appeared to be in a state of infant shock. She was peering at the opened door waiting for Ashton Kutcher to come running in and tell her she’d just been Punk’d. She looked back at me and realized this was no joke. With a quivering voice, knowing the answer, she asked one last time, “Mama?”

I picked her up and told her it was Papa’s turn now. Then, all hell broke loose. I thought her cries would bring the Child Protective Services SWAT Team. How could I console this child? All the while, my wife found a way to sleep drooling a small puddle on her down pillow through the din of her angry child.

"I can’t do this,” I thought. I rocked Maya, sang to her, patted her and finally, put her down in her crib convincing myself she’d eventually fall asleep.

Seven times! I was in that nursery seven times that first night. Nothing I did worked. The only reason either of us got any sleep was from pure, undiluted exhaustion. The last time she cried, all she could produce from her eyes were empty salt bubbles. Neither of us had anything left.

Although I could barely keep my eyes open at work the next day, I prayed the night wouldn’t come. I love my little girl, but I couldn’t go through this torture again. I looked at my wife, “Don’t you think maybe we should try this when she’s a little bit...”

Without looking away from the latest episode of Desperate Housewives she just patted the forty-two pound research stack and I knew there would be no wiggle room. That night I ended up sitting on my baby’s floor from 3 a.m. until 4:30 a.m. Every four minutes, Maya would peek up over the railing of her crib. “Papa?”

That was my cue: “I’m still here.”

She’d lay back down. Four minutes later, “Papa?”

“I’m still here.”

The upside was that I knew she was comforted knowing I was there with her, breastless and all.

Night three. More progress. When I come in, she calls me, “Ma-Pa”, halfway to my actual title. This night I don’t pick her up. She doesn’t cry. She lies down as I hum “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”, trying to sneak out of her room. Then I hear Maya add her own words to the song: “Night night, night night, night night night...” I can’t help but laugh. Maya lifts her head and laughs with me. I return to her crib and kiss her again. She curls up and I don’t hear another peep until 5:45.

From then on, nights have become easier. There are no more tears, or salt bubbles for that matter. Maya expects me to come at night, not Mom. As soon as I do, she lays down and waits for me to cover her. She even slept through the entire night once.

Our nighttime routine has cemented our daytime bond. When Maya falls or wants her sippy cup, she’ll actually choose to come to me over Mom every now and again. We'd joke and laugh together often. When she covers her baby doll up with a blanket she knows she’s got my number when she hums “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”. I bust up and Maya joins in. Mom wonders what’s so funny.

I’m still sleep deprived, but getting used to it (my bloodshot brown eyes look good over dark, puffy bags), my wife is deservedly well-rested and Maya is joining the rest of the civilized world, mostly sleeping the same hours shoe stores are closed for the night. The best thing that’s come from this experience is that now I get it. I understand how moms are able to give so much of themselves: their sleep, their jobs, their time, their bodies. At times it seems so impossible, but it’s the connection that keeps Moms going. It’s those smiling eyes that look up to you before they close for a nap and the giggles when you tickle their bellybuttons.

I feel as though I’m part of the Mama Club, now. Well, maybe an honorary member. I’m half way there... Ma-Pa.

Leon Scott Baxter is a West Coast writer who lives with his wife and two daughters in California. To see more of his work, go to

Published: Oct 10,2008 17:29
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