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Man of the House by Chris Erskine

Philosophy and Pampers

Caught between a baby and a college kid. What would Camus say?

November 13, 2003|Chris Erskine

My life is being run by a mouthy little guy with Santa's butt and skin like Scarlett O'Hara's. Many of the clothes he favors snap at the crotch, like those outfits you bought the wife on your first anniversary, back when you could both still fit into your college jeans. He's 11 months old, heavily diapered and wears more powder than a doughnut. That's the guy who runs my life.

"Your daddy loves you," my wife whispers to him on the bed.

"He's OK, I guess," I say, never one to exaggerate an emotional moment.

"Your daddy loves you more than anything," she warns him.

He has a wide mouth and a highly developed sense of irony, at least as babies go. He curls up on my pillow like an apostrophe. If I'm not careful, I'll inhale him when I snore. The baby would surely appreciate the irony in that. His mother birthed him; I snorted him back in. He'd always wondered exactly what my role around here was.

"You hungry?" my wife asks.

"Always," I answer.

"I was talking to the baby," she says.

"So was I."

He walks the way Ray Bolger did coming off that scarecrow stake, legs of pasta, the balance of a sorority dance drunk. Mornings like this, he'll climb up into my lap and help me write. "V5tvvvvvvvvvcdvvvvvvvccccccc vvv ,b,..cvg," are some of the things he's written recently. As you can probably tell, he favors consonants and is highly wary of adverbs. If he keeps this up, we think he might have a future writing sitcoms.

"vvvv cccccccc cc vvvv," he wrote the other day, as if there was nothing to it.

Sure, there's a little paternal resentment. First, of course, over the fact that writing comes so easily to him. Then there's the fact that everything he drinks from comes with a nipple. And he's not bashful about it at all. When he's done nursing, he lets out the kind of war cry you hear from Florida State fans on New Year's Day -- half turkey gobble, half maternity-ward shriek.

"EeeeeeHaaaaaaaaa!" he yells, his mother's whisky dripping from his chin.

"I'll go make the coffee," I say, patting my wife on the shoulder.

"EeeeeeeHaaaaaaaaa!" the baby screams as I leave the room.

That's who's running my life.

My LIFE IS

also being run by a college girl, who returns on weekends like some sort of sweeps-week TV special, gliding through the door and making the dog jump all crazy and her little sister holler with glee.

"Who's that?" the baby wonders.

"Elizabeth Taylor," I explain.

"What's she doing here?" he wonders.

"Before you, she used to run the place," I say.

The college girl drops her dirty laundry on the doorstep -- don't they all? -- and asks her mother and me if we've ever read much Camus or seriously considered Buddhism.

"Of course," I answer. "Every day."

"Camus had some interesting theories," she says.

"Which couldn't hold up to the rigors of everyday life," I say.

"What are you talking about?"

"I think you heard me."

Just then, the furnace kicks on, indicating fall is really here. A cold germ sneaks in through a crack beneath the back door. Christmas and the flu are on the way, hand in hand.

"Dad, you should re-read Roth," she says. "And this other guy, Edward Abbey."

I stand there admiring my older daughter, wondering if I could ever replicate all the parenting mistakes I made with her, because something we did sure worked out right. Lord, she's lovely. And not just by a father's standards. By any measure. Natural as a maple leaf. Lustrous as an autumn day.

"Here, hold him a second," I say, thrusting the baby in her arms and asking if she's ever heard of a company called Pampers.

"You know, they make fashionable apparel for babies' rumps," I explain.

"Diapers?"

"That's right, college girl," I say. "Tighter fit. More absorbent than ever."

I grab my jacket and my wife, starved for a moment alone together after 11 months of nonstop baby care.

"Where you going?" the college girl asks, suddenly panicked.

"To a movie," I say.

"Mom too?"

"Why not?"

"But I just got home," she complains.

Welcome home, kid. The fridge is full. The baby food is waiting by the sink.

*

Chris Erskine can be reached at chris.erskine@latimes.com.

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