On the road

. March 15, 2013.

Who would have thought that the 1994 Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock action film, Speed, would provide helpful guidance to a new parent?
We brought our baby home from the hospital at the end of August.  After the whirlwind of childbirth, long nights in a hospital room trying to catch a few minutes of sleep, and the inevitable arrival of two vanfuls of out-of-town family members, we had hoped things would settle down.
Baby Dee had other plans.
The life of a newborn seems simple.  She is hungry, so she cries.  She eats, then does her business in her diaper, then falls asleep.  What seems like just a few minutes later, she awakens to start the cycle anew.
But the truth is, every step in the process is an adventure and a challenge.  Getting that milk or formula to stay down, or to come up when it needs to come up, is just not something her nine months of incubation have prepared her to do.
Enter Speed.  The baby needs to move, and move quickly; if she slows down, even for a minute, she will explode.  The wide-eyed chubby-cheeked bundle of joy will transform in a blink to a surround-sound screamer, capable of awakening even the most sleep-deprived parent, producing frantic efforts to identify the source of her angst.
Dad on duty
But if the baby is kept moving and the speedometer stays above a certain point, she’s fine.  The first stage of movement in our house consisted of “Daddy Lap Time” from two to four in the morning.  The ground floor of our little home consists of a dining room nestled between a living room and a kitchen.  Separating the living room and kitchen is a four-seasons-porch, with doors that can be opened into each room.
A perfect velodrome for the gassy newborn and her gold-jersey-wearing dad.  At a brisk and bouncy pace, daddy rounds the ground floor.  Laps turn into bakers’ dozens of laps, with daddy careful to keep one hand behind baby’s head in case he cuts a turn too  tightly or slips too close to a hard-edged piece of hanging art.  The wind blows outside and dawn slowly begins to creep from the shadows.  If daddy slows for even a moment, mommy’s much needed recovery sleep will be broken by the most heart-wrenching of cries.

Quiet on the road
As baby grows and it becomes time to take her to her first doctors’ visit or to the Babies ‘R Us for a refill of landfill-avoiding eco-diapers, the baby’s need for speed remains.  She’s happy in her car seat, sitting near the couch or beside the dining table.  She seems open to the idea of being taken out to be loaded into the car.  She doesn’t mind NPR or even the occasional Smashing Pumpkins CD. 
But what she minds is slow driving.  Ironic, since the safest thing a parent can do, after getting the infant car seat directions translated from technobabble into English and pulling and prodding on the car seat and seatbelt until the apparatus is installed to an engineer’s satisfaction, is to drive more slowly.  But baby will have none of it.  Quiet residential streets are to be avoided, since complying with a 25-mph posted limit will produce an expression of extreme discomfort.  Too fast, however, and the results will quickly be regurgitated all over baby and, likely, the non-driving parent watching from seat next to the baby.  The perfect speed seems to be thirty-five miles per hour. 
Long avenues and gentle curves bring the baby a kind of peace that mommy and daddy will long for over the next eighteen years.

Geoffrey Rapp is the father of baby girl “Dee” Rapp, born August 23, 2009.  He is a professor at the University of Toledo College of Law.  His writing has appeared in the Washington Post, The Hartford Courant, and on cnn.com.  Contact him at c/o editor@toledoparent.com