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Tough Love for a Baby

Infants and long car trips do not mix well, but there is hope.

by Dear Jon
May 24, 2005

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Tough Love for a Baby

Dear Jon,

We are traveling a long distance by car over the Memorial Day Weekend with an infant child. Since it is normally an eight hour trip, should we consider breaking up the trip with an overnight stay, or should we just drive through?

Road Warrior
Dear Pie-Eyed Optimist,
What you must do, first of all, is abandon hope that you, your wife, and your baby, can make a "right" decision and enjoy the trip. All of your options are bleak. There is no way that you will enjoy the car trips in either direction.
This is due to an innate genetic trigger in early childhood development, a defect with which approximately 100% of all babies are born, called Family Under Stress Symbiosis (FUSS). If you have never heard of this defect before, it is because it is a diagnosis original with Dear Jon, coined after years of personal and anecdotal evidence with all the scientific authority that the internet can bestow on an anonymous advice columnist.
FUSS works in this way: Since a baby is not able to verbalize coherent speech, and is constantly learning a mix of verbalized concepts and nonsensical cooing noises, the baby must compensate for cognitive dissociation by picking up other clues exhibited by its nearest affinities. The way the baby is held, the tones of voice, and sudden noises as opposed to constant soothing noise, all help the baby figure out the emotional equilibrium and to respond accordingly in one of four ways: peaceful quietude, sleep, incoherent verbalization, and hysterics. (I read some of this in a book someplace, called "Baby Whisperer" or something, which I don't have time to look up. Most of this is from third-hand sources, and a lot I have made up, at least as far as I know.)
What triggers FUSS is that a baby believes that those in proximity are desiring the baby to participate in the emotional environment. When its parents are focused on a goal to the point of being short with each other, the baby senses the tensions and responds accordingly. If Dad is cross with Mom for not alerting him to the exit they had just passed, then Dad is angry which makes Mom tense and irritated in turn, which makes both of them inwardly sad that they are having a tiff and being short with each other. A baby's verbalization in each case: anger, irritation, and sadness, is to let out a piercing, calm-shattering wail with the decibel force of an ambulance in a living room.
Even if Dad apologizes for being cross, it is too late for the baby. And if Mom's normal response is to cry, because it has already been a long day, and she is worried about how the family will be received, and she feels affectionate for her husband, and really does feel regret and share his frustration about the missed exit, then that baby is going to keep on with that siren scream.
Note that I have used a car trip as an example. This is the usual experience for families on their way to church. You are talking about driving for eight hours.
To let you know how hopeless your prospects are for Memorial Day, I want to show you that future Memorial Day excursions will not be better for you for at least fifteen years, and perhaps much longer.
Disorders that arise from the FUSS defect have also been originally diagnosed by myself as evident in an estimated 100% of all "healthy" babies. I have extrapolated this figure based on my careful research in family restaurants in which I have tried to have a civilized conversation with adult friends when patrons at surrounding tables have needed high chairs for part of their company. I have come to these conclusions after careful observations in the laboratory settings of the homes of friends or relatives with infants.
These disorders include Constant Regressive Yearning (CRY) and Tots Aggressive Neuro-Temporal Reality-Unraveling Mania (TANTRUM). As the disorders progress, toddlers will experience Misanthropic Inertial Negations of Empathy (MINE).  The teenager will exhibit a number of maladies arising from the FUSS gene, but common in approximately 100% of teens is the eye-rolling tick, an autonomic response whenever an adult parent says anything at all.
Amazingly, the FUSS gene can be sweated out of the system anytime after the age of fifteen, when circumstances confront the individual with the need to get a job and fend for themselves. Just as amazingly, many people of all walks of life and economic circumstance, are able to retain the FUSS gene all their lives. This usually occurs where, for whatever reason, the "healthy" person has been able to latch on to people they can manipulate and soak. Treatment centers call this "co-dependency" and in all cases recommend "tough love." This means saying, "I love you and the best way I can help you is to derail this gravy train you've been riding in this house/school/church/. You will find your stuff on the sidewalk. Call me when you're ready to learn about adulthood."
In all cases where tough love is required, it is of no service or use to anyone at all to put it off. However, tough love is inappropriate with babies, toddlers, and even teenagers up to a certain age (13 traditionally when "adolescence" was neither a psychological category nor an excuse, 16 sixty years ago, and 18 now. Bleeding hearts who want to up that age to 21 or 25 or higher, are making society's problems worse, not better).
Your challenge is that you are dealing with a baby in whom the FUSS disorder has been triggered. Obviously "tough love" is not an approach that will work with a baby. So I want to prepare you to accept the following as absolutely inevitable and unavoidable.
  1. A baby sharing a hotel room with a Father who wants to get going and a Mother who is tired of it all, is going to be verbalizing emotion off of their cues for a long time in to the night.
  2. If you have reserved a motel stop, your baby will sleep throughout the car trip, and thus be up all night.
  3. If you plan to drive straight through, your baby will not sleep, and will be cranky and irritable, making you cranky and irritable, making the baby even worse.
  4. Your wife will make you stop the car for everything from feeding to diaper changes. Eight hours will take 13. Add another 90 minutes if you are safety-seat impaired, meaning, you can never get the buckle to click shut once you have opened it. If you stop for the night, add 16 hours. This is because you will circle the city three times looking for the correct motel, the baby will not sleep and so you will all get up late, and thirty miles into the trip the next day you will realize that you had forgotten the diaper bag because you had shoved it under the night table in the room during your stay, so you will have to turn around and retrieve it, which will be more complicated than any male should be required to expect, because the day manager will have to quiz all the cleaning ladies, whose remarkable industry and diversity continue to make America great, and for all of whom English, without exception, is third or fourth on their list of linguistic proficiency.
  5. If you go up without stopping for the night, you will wish you had, you will learn from your mistake, and you will stay in a motel half-way through your return trip.
  6. If you stop for the night on your way up, you will wish you had not, you will learn from your mistake, and you will drive straight through to get back home.
Anyone who knows me can tell you that Dear Jon is a "straight-through" kind of guy. They can also tell you that Dear Jon is not yet a parent. The best advice I can give you is, before you leave, take emotional inventory with your wife. Choose to be thoroughly, inwardly, and deeply happy about the trip and patient with each other in all circumstances. If you're lucky, your baby just might be, too.

Comments (1)

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robert from maryland writes:
October 21, 2005
Jon, your article is flawless. It's like you were in the car with us and taking notes. My daughter is almost two now and is much better on long trips however she is not so nice outside the car seat anymore!


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