Pepin has recently soured on the bottle. She drinks about a third of the milk and then turns red, shakes off the bottle, and acts like I'm feeding her hot coals. She has turned our late-night bottle feedings—meant to be father-daughter happy hours—into ordeals that she will later recount to the man she married to spite me.
Or perhaps it's my fault. Or the Diaper Genie's. Anything is possible. Pepin can't explain herself and neither can I, and so we sit there in the dark like foreigners trying to make ourselves understood. At the end, she has usually downed most of the milk with pained exasperation, and we go our separate ways like wary actors who just performed a play they didn't really comprehend.
Naturally, I've taken to Google for help. "Fussing," "bottle feeding"—go! Google has supplied me with so much arcane knowledge over the years that I'm certain it will bring me loads of helpful hints on something as essential to the human experience as feeding a baby.
Turns out I'm wrong. A couple million years of homosapien babies sitting around the collective human campfire and nobody knows anything about them. Not really. Not the way we know that the earth is round and Kanye West is self-absorbed and the Vikings will never win a Super Bowl. In fact, the accumulated wisdom about babies has about the same certainty as tips for grizzly bear encounters: It might work to play dead or it might work to run away; it might work to run up a tree or it might work to cut down the tree and try to whack the bear with it. Results may vary.
It's possible we're asking the wrong questions. If you still believe there are no stupid questions you haven't Googled "preemie development" and encountered someone writing that her waters broke a few days ago, six weeks early, and she's asking people named Kittenluv and Grumpier Old Woman on Yahoo if she should see a doctor. If there are any finer points to bottle feeding, they're buried in questions about whether or not it's okay to pour a glass of tap water into a newborn's mouth because otherwise, well, how will she hydrate?
I suspect my expectations are to blame. There's so much uncertainty about babies for the very reason we adore them: they're not like anyone else's baby. There's no manual because there's no machine. And I need to get used to it. That said, I supposed I've gleaned a few things in my five weeks of fatherhood. So here's a few semi-pro tips. You're welcome.
1) Do not feed your baby at 3 a.m. while watching television, because 18 years later you will have to explain that you spent her college savings on gold bars and Shamwows.
2) Do not feed your baby the dregs of your beer hoping it will discourage her from drinking in the future, even if it's Miller Lite.
3) Do not drink the milk to see if it's warm enough. This shouldn't need to be explained.
4) Do not attempt to change the diaper and feed the bottle simultaneously, even if the bottle is basically a pacifier and isn't she crying because she's dying to eat? Hmm. Let's assume it can't end well.
5) Do not ask Yahoo whether it's okay to substitute Vitamin Water for breast milk while you're about to tip the bottle into baby.
6) Do not ask Yahoo anything, even about Kanye West.
(Photo: What Pepin usually thinks of my attempts at late-night conversation.)