Seahorses and Similac
By Ethan Sandler
I had, years before, found a rubber-stamp of a Seahorse that was a suitable design, telling myself, “If you still want this exact Seahorse design tattoo in ONE YEAR, I’ll allow it.” So when Kathryn shouted through the phone “Rachel’s driving and we’re getting tattoos! Come with!!” I dug out the stamp, and an hour later was the proud owner of a sore, bloody Seahorse on my back. As I wobbled toward the door for a cigarette, I heard the girl who would become my wife, top of her frigging lungs, cracking the tattoo-guy up, freaking out about the “3 phases of the moon” tattoo she was about to have sewn in her body. Little round blue circles. I had chosen the seahorse, a creature whose males carry then birth their young, because they said something to me about honor. Or responsibility. Or being the kind of Man I wanted to become. Or something. My girlfriend picked three dime-sized blue moon-circles because the dude at “Fat Jakes” suggested it. I smoked, confused, listening to her giggleshriek her brains out as those moons became permanent.
And now, seventeen years later, she kisses me goodbye on a predawn Friday. I mutter something about a safe flight and she’s gone for New York till Sunday night. I roll over and drape my arm over Leonard’s tiny 3 ½ year old back and the first annual Daddy Weekend is underway. Ten minutes later, Mae greets her day in the other room with the song of the frustrated. She’s ten months of Trouble. Mae’s hungry. Kathryn pumped in preparation for Daddy Weekend, but –
Wait. A note about Kathryn’s pumping. Well, wait. First, a note about pumping as a concept. I have to admit, in print, that breastfeeding in general is psychologically confusing. Those are breasts, and I have many, many thoughts about that. And now they’re feeding a tiny baby. A terribly humbling thing to watch.
Same goes for the entire process of child-building, birthing and, then, feeding. I can juggle pretty well. I play the ukulele. I’ve read some things. But I can’t do anything in the face of the human-creation/sustenance process. It is in these moments of motherhood that I think “Oh. OH. That’s why we make war and pyramids. What else is there in the face of this?” Nothing. I do nothing. I’m a wingman.
But not this weekend. This weekend I do everything because I’m a seahorse and I rush down the stairs and open the fridge and grab a bottle from the door and enjoy seventy thoughts simultaneously about my wife’s breasts and what they once represented to me and what they mean now, and milk, actual milk in a little bottle that came from her body to feed Trouble upstairs. I heat the thing up and rush back to meet her in the crib and swoop her into my arms, spin, sit in the rocker and present her with mommymilk and … she’s not having it. No way. Bottle? Kiss my tiny butt. Get that junk out of here. I want the lady with the nice smelling skin not your furry blub. I’m useless. “Daddy?” Oh no. Leonard’s up. “Daddy? I have to go peepee!” Mae’s screaming now. In a panic, I try to ninja the thing into her mouth. She just needs a sip, I think. One little drop of life-fluid and she’ll remember what’s what and she’ll care less about delivery devices. “DADDY?! IS today a school day? I have to go peepee! Where’s Lambee?!”
“Yes. It’s Friday, Buddy. School today, no school tomorrow or Sunday… Lambee is by the stairs!” “What you said?” “The STAIRS!” Think, you idiot. Mae’s blowing her top. Must sustain life.
Sippy cup. The girl loves a sippy cup. It’s new technology. She loves it. With furious Mae in my arms I get Leonard situated at the toilet, rush back downstairs, produce sippy cup, transfer fluid and BAM. She’s thrilled. Holding it herself. She downs it. She’s happy. She’s talking. She’s adorable. She’s absurdly adorable. “Daddy? Can I have Dinosaur oatmeal, please?” He’s adorable too. Daddy Weekend is going to be –
Oh wait, the note about Kathryn’s pumping: For reasons I won’t go into here, Mae was in the NICU for a week and it was a terrifying experience that came on the heels of a, um, er, dramatic labor and birth. Kathryn went through the gambit of human experience and I only bring that up to contextualize that the FIRST TIME SHE GOT OUT OF HER HOSPITAL BED WAS TO PUMP. Tiny premie Mae was too little to breastfeed from a human nipple and Kathryn was committed enough to breastfeeding that she pumped. And pumped. And pumped so much that the entire fridge door was lined with little bottles. It was a hilarious sight, frankly. I made a lot of jokes about how the fridge door used to have beer. Also, whenever she says “I gotta pump” I clap and then go “you up!” (“Pump [clap] you up!” Who’s with me?)
But that was ten months ago. Now pumping is a drag. The bra with the holes. The immobility. She’s over it and who can blame her? She doesn’t have to really. She sees Mae enough that pumped-milk is usually unnecessary. Except on Daddy Weekend. I took inventory. I rationed. The milk should last all weekend. “Daddy?! Oh, I have an idea, let’s go to a toy store!” Please, God, let this weekend be okay.
And, in fact, the weekend was a hilarious and tottering affair. We three found our groove. We went to Torrance to the “Toy Story 3 Release Party!” at the Borders (There was no party. At all. There was a lady with stickers.) and a street festival at which I had Mae in the Bjorn and Leonard on my shoulders, like a Baboon Mom. People smirked at me and I tried to act like I carried them like that all the time and it was no big deal. But my heart was blowing up.
But. I ran out of mommymilk, of course, Sunday night. Kathryn had done the math, too, and dug out the Similac can we had in the pantry, just in case. I felt guilty as I mixed the powder into water and shook the sippy cup at bedtime. Bath. Giggles. Leonard watching TV (I rationed the TV like I rationed the milk). Towel with bunny-ears on it. PJ’s. Formula… And she didn’t mind it. She was fine. She drank it up. She was chill. She fell asleep without fanfare.
I closed the door quietly and prepped myself for bedtime #2 with Handsome Pants downstairs and I caught my reflection in the bathroom mirror. I can handle this. I’m a Seahorse. I can do this on my own, even. Sea. Horse.
And then Mommy came home.
I didn’t see Mae’s face for most of the first day as it was buried in Kathryn’s chest. Leonard essentially forgot about me. Order restored. I found myself saying “Do I put this in the dryer?” and “Are we doing anything on Thursday or can I go out?”. I know, I know. I do lots. I know where the tickle-buttons are and later I’ll be of much use when it’s time to talk about the Pixies and why bolo ties were once cool (yes they were… ). But, I mean… In the face of all this?
Happy Fathers Day, wingmen.
ETHAN SANDLER – is a writer/performer living in Los Angeles with his wife and two whippersnappers. His new solo play, ‘Artificial Fellow Traveler’, about Nixon and Kruschev’s famous ‘kitchen debate’, the Cola Wars, and fear of the end of the world will have its premiere at the Williamstown Theater Festival in August.