Gus is 504 days old today and he is feeling his oats -- ordering his parents around by pointing to things he wants, signalling that he is hungry (hand to mouth), banging on the front door when he wants to go out, running to the bathroom when it’s time for potty and grabbing our lips when he’s frustrated.
When we take the dog for a walk in the morning, Gus insists on poking around in the yard for 20 or 30 minutes before he’ll even consider getting into the stroller.
Annie patiently waits with her half-lidded eyes as Gus, all bundled up in his snow suit and looking like the Michelin Man, motors around the driveway, crawls up the porch steps and bumps his way back down (three, four, five times), tries to pick up pine cones with his mittened hands, splashes in puddles and crunches through the snow.
When I’ve grown tired of chasing him around the yard and keeping him from wandering into the road, I ask him if he is ready to get in the stroller and he answers by vehemently shaking his head back and forth (which, without prodding, he’s randomly started to do at odd times of the day. Becky and I surmise he does it for that cheap thrill of making himself dizzy) and turning his back on me.
When he is ready to get in the stroller, he lifts his arms up, his signal for "Pick me up, dad."
But just because he’s ready to get in the stroller doesn’t mean he’s ready to sit down and enjoy the ride. He likes to stand up and watch the world go by.
If he’s facing forward, I grasp the hood of his snowsuit as an anchor to keep him from tumbling onto the road, but often he likes to face backwards, gnawing on the fabric of the retracted hood.
If I’m not wearing gloves, he tries to grab my fingers, pull them into his mouth and bite! Ow! It is true what they say -- the jaw muscle is the strongest muscle in our body, and Gus proves it every time he clamps down on a fingertip.
Before he settles down for the trip, he rocks back and forth, my heart leaping up in my throat each time he leans a little too far forward or to the right or left; I keep my hand on his shoulder to keep him from leaning to far.
Eventually he’s ready to sit down and lean back in the stroller, his fatigue beginning to wrap him up like the old down sleeping bag I stuff him into to keep him warm on these cold mornings.
He snuggles deep into its folds with just his beautiful little face poking out and drifts off into his first nap of the day. When I know he’s deep asleep, I unfold the hood and stretch a dark blanket over it to give him a warm cubby for the one to two hours of sleep time he gets on these walks.
If I get tired of walking before he awakens I push the stroller up onto the porch and sit on a cold plastic chair surfing the Internet on my phone until he wakes with a cry.
Becky showed me an article she read recently about parents in Scandinavia who let their babies nap in their strollers in the out of doors, even in the coldest of weather. They leave them on the porch, by the front door and in front of the coffee shop (attached to the article was a picture of a row of strollers in front of a coffee shop while the parents sipped hot drinks inside).
While I’m not ready to leave Gus snoozing in his stroller on the sidewalk, I took the article to heart the other day while it was raining and I was soaked nearly to the skin.
I parked the stroller on the porch and with rain dripping off the eaves of the overhang I went inside and washed the dishes. After about an hour or so, Gus woke up screaming (which is typical; when his nap is over, it’s over and he lets us know).
It’s nice to know I don’t need to keep walking and walking while he naps. (The days of a three-hour walk are over, thank God! Though Annie surely misses them.)
Most days, he just dozes in the stroller for one to two hours while I push but on the rare day when it’s snowing or there is slush on the ground I put him in the Ergo (a baby carrier pack). Becky likes to carry him on her back in the Ergo but I like to wear it on my chest.
On Friday, with snow falling and the plow trucks not yet having made a pass through the neighborhood, I got Gus all ready to go, slid him into the Ergo and pulled a big puffy windbreaker over the both of us.
He smiled and giggled and did his best to sing Joe Walsh tunes (to which we had danced after breakfast) to me as we slowly walked down the road until he fell asleep with his cheek against my chest.
I don’t wear the Ergo pack too often as it gives me a sore back, but being that close to my boy is a wonderful sensation; feeling him breath, listening to his sleepy gurgling sounds ... a little bit of heaven right here on snowpacked back roads.
It also puts him right within reach of a quick kiss when he wakes, gently easing him back into the waking world.
It does give me a sore back for the day, but there will come a day when he won’t fit into the pack anymore, so a little bit of soreness is worth the memories of carrying my baby boy against my chest and having his heart right next to mine.
It’s well worth the crick in my lower back.
Bob Audette is the day editor at the Brattleboro Reformer and proud father of Gus. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at 802-254-2311, ext. 160. Follow Bob on Twitter @audette.reformer.