Monday, April 1, 2019

Bjorn Again

I am about as progressive a parent and partner as you’re likely to meet. I believe that when it comes to gender roles, “traditional” is just code for “repressive and patriarcal”. I cook (well). I clean (poorly). I shop. I mend. I darn. I can take a child’s temperature without a thermometer. I also drill. I hammer. I change flat tires. I hang things on walls. I can assemble Ikea furniture without directions. I know that gender is not binary.
So it is with full awareness my modern, limousine liberal, quinoa-eating ethos that I say that no man should ever wear a Baby Bjorn.

A Baby Bjorn is a deeply emasculating device. It is a full-frontal vasectomy. A canvas chest vagina. Which makes it all the more remarkable that I gladly wore one almost daily for nearly two years. Such was the nature of my daughter’s neediness.

From her earliest days, she needed to be held, begged to be bounced, demanded to be in physical contact, pleaded to be on the move. This is what we told ourselves. There was no other way to account for the wailing; the desperate, pleading, incessant cries that seemed to dominate her waking hours.

My wife began to believe that the emotional and physical trauma of our daughter’s newborn illness had created a primal need that could never be satisfied by ordinary parenting measures. Stroller rides. Soft music. Sound machines. These would never be enough to soothe her.

She needed to be worn.
We lived in San Francisco’s Castro District for the first five years of my daughter’s life. As I wandered the street of our neighborhood, keeping her in constant contact and motion, I quickly learned that having an infant strapped to his chest makes a man more appealing. I’m a decent looking guy. I’d become accustomed to, even flattered by, being hit on by men from time to time. The Baby Bjorn, however, seemed to turn me into a kind of oil-anointed, shirtless Jake Gyllenhaal. I recall an aimless, nap-preserving perambulation that took me past the Twin Peaks Tavern, the historic gay bar on the corner of Market and Castro. It’s regular denizens, older men, bears, and lifelong couples, had rarely noticed me in the past. This day, however, my Bjorn-ed child acted as an eye magnet. I felt their penetrating gazes; their recognition of me as a man who could make a commitment, a tender man unafraid to be vulnerable, confident enough in his masculinity to mount a baby girl to his chest and parade through earth’s gayest neighborhood. Through the bar’s open windows, I heard a hushed voice with a central casting lisp coo, “Oh, that is so adorable.” The voice’s longtime companion responded, “You know, babies are the new pugs.”
Such is the power of the Bjorn.
In many ways, the Bjorn is a gesture, a sacrifice made to the mother of one’s child. It is a man’s way of saying, my darling, you forced a watermelon through your vagina, so I will wear it on my chest. The act is somehow totally uncalled for and not nearly enough. I wore my daughter around the house and in the backyard, while feeding her from a bottle, washing dishes, and pruning a camellia bush. My wife hardly noticed. And she shouldn’t have.
The Bjorn may have been an acknowledgment of her sacrifice but I didn’t really wear it for her. When my daughter was in the Bjorn, she slept. She breathed onto my skin, the condensation of her warm breath collecting on my chest hair like dew drops. Her head lolled and her nose rooted against me. The wet powder smell of her strawberry hair filled my nose, imprinting on me the joyous unexpectedness of my commitment to her. In the Bjorn, she was at peace. And in her peace, I found mine.
As a new parent, I was naive, terrified, and inept. No classes, books, or advice could have prepared me for what I needed to know. My daughter unwittingly prayed upon my fears and weaknesses. Her neediness overwhelmed me. She took everything I could give her, and then she demanded more. In my most exhausted moments, my most desperate hours, holding her was the only way I could be sure I was helping her. When I was too tired to hold her, I strapped her to my body. And she stayed there, secure and asleep in a navy blue canvas pouch, defying the gravity that threatened to bring me to my knees.
The Baby Bjorn saved me. It held her when I couldn’t. It helped me be the parent she needed me to be, even when I didn’t want to be. It taught me that what I wanted didn’t matter. How I looked didn’t matter. What people thought of me didn’t matter. The only thing that mattered was her. I’m grateful for my Bjorn lessons.
And I never want to wear one again.