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Baby Swaddling for Dummies

When my daughter, Violet, was born in a Salt Lake City hospital five years ago, one of the first things that I noticed the nurses doing for her was this whole trickery known as swaddling.

I stood off to the side of the room, next to the fresh flowers and the big blue plastic pee container for people who might need that kind of thing, and I watched as my teeny baby girl got burrito’d by a friendly stranger.

Hmph, I thought. What the hell is this?

And long story short, for whatever reason, I became fixated on the sort of ancient art of swaddling.

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Still, I am what I am, and even after I asked the nurse to show me how she was doing it, and even after I practiced on a little girl who probably didn’t appreciate going from being swaddled up hard and fast by an expert to being jostled around and then lifted up in a loose-fitting, flappy anti-swaddle, I still sucked at it.

Whatever. I never gave up.

Henry came along two years after Violet, and I continued my rough form of baby comforting by laying the poor guy on the bed and rolling him around like a countertop roast beef while I tried to get the thing right.

Part of my problem in this world, I think, is that I really want to be good at stuff but I try and learn it all on my own, without too much influence or help from anybody else. So, short of that one swift demo from the nurse a couple years earlier, my only informed education when it came to swaddling was to cram my kids into some kind of reject Hot Pocket.

Still, looking back on it all now, I know that I did occasionally nail it, and that there were two or three times when I managed to make the cross fold and then the high fold and then the final fold, with that tight little pull at the end with a bit of grace, you know?

Life is super weird.

You can get really used to doing something sort of half-assed until one day you just come to accept the way you’re getting it done as the right way, or at least as an acceptable way; nothing wrong with that, really. Lying to ourselves makes the world go round. Yet, every now and again, something happens that grabs your wheel and steers you off the same old highway. In my case, it was Charlie’s arrival a month-and-change ago. Such a sweet little baby boy, he is. I wanted to do him right, for once.

So I did the only real thing you can do if you’re 42-year-old man with no clue at all.

"Daddy’s gonna make you into a burrito."

I went on YouTube. (Dear God, there are a lot of people with a lot of spare time out there in the world, huh?)

I punched "swaddle baby" into the search box, and boom: It was as if I had invited 10,000 sweetly effusive women whose long-suffering dream is a two-minute segment on the Today show into my bedroom.

It was like a giant orgy of baby love. And let me tell you people something. I waltzed right in to all that like a sheik or a George Clooney. I watched one video after another, Charlie rolling around there on the floor, probably feeling jittery, probably sensing the weird electricity in the air and that something was up. I practiced the way certain ladies used their dainty, slim fingers to tug and raise and tuck.

I practiced swaddling a big fat baby made out of air.

I practiced swaddling some teddy bear my kids had left lying around.

And finally, when I felt half-confident enough, when I felt as if all of my shitty swaddles from the past five years were ready to have their asses handed to them on a White Castle tray, I scooped up my baby son and laid him down on a big blanket of frogs, just as he was starting to try and eat his hand (sign of hunger) and cry.

“OK, OK, OK, little guy,” I whispered. “Daddy’s gonna swaddle you up! Lucky lucky kid. Daddy’s gonna make you into a burrito.”

And I did.

With one eye on a video on my computer screen, I carefully mimicked each and every move the lady made, that last fold across making my heart rise up into my throat just the same as if I had just floated a big three-pointer at the buzzer.

The long moment went to slow motion/Charlie’s cries became deep, drawn-out growls/my hand made the final move through a thick cloud of molasses.

He was quiet.

No shit.

I’m not lying.

Charlie’s tears stopped, and his heavy eyelids floated around in his baby skull, trying to figure out what had just happened.

And so I told him.

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“You've been swaddled, meatloaf!”

But by then he was already half asleep, buried in an imperfect wad of blankets about as nasty as I’d ever managed.

There was my son, my Charlie, my precious tiny fella, wrapped up in a wad of my goofy dumb love that would make an old Amish midwife hurl herself through a big barn window.

And me, huddled over him, grinning hard down into his sleeping face.

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