Last Friday, the first day I spent alone with Pepin, I brought her downstairs along with my laptop, as though they were not mutually exclusive. I set her on her play-mat, and she began to cry. I moved her to the couch, beside me. I moved her to my lap, so that I was reaching around her to type the way people in some countries ride motorbikes with their children. But she would only stop crying if I held her—straight out from my chest, like a medicine ball—and bounced her.
I'm over crying. No, really. It used to spike my blood pressure, short-circuit my brain—an air horn to the cerebellum. But after three months I understand that this is the only speech my daughter has, and now I hear her like I hear the coworker with the leaf-blower lungs, the guy in sales who never learned to use his inside voice. It's just the way she talks.
But when you're alone with crying, there's no rationalizing it. There's just you, a screaming child, and a door you can walk out only once. I closed up the laptop and bounced Pepin until my arms hurt.
Then we hit the road. I don't know what dads usually do with babies when they're in charge of them for an entire day. Lucy suggested a baby music class, the corner cafe. I put Pepin in her stroller and pushed her to an abandoned mill, a lonely place of broken windows and darkened doorways where I've seen a van pull up, disgorge five or six televisions, and speed off in a storm of gravel. A place spraypainted, "Can your God save you now?"
In fairness, it's a pretty walk there, through woods and along a creek, past chickens in someone's backyard. The abandoned mill was silent. Pepin was asleep in her stroller. I sat on a bench by the creek and rocked her. If anyone saw us, they might have done what a sign on the place warned would happen: "Police will be called." They might have thought I'd run off with her.
I had, of course. When we got back, I changed Pepin and fed her a bottle, slipped back into the routine. We'll probably never go back to the ruins, but I needed to know we could.