Howling Babies and Hanging On

A newborn baby. Adorable. With that baby smell. Tiny. Precious. Sleeping all snuggled into your arms. Except when she's not.


That would be when she's awake and howling and doesn't seem to be hungry, tired, or in need of a change. Why is it those times are always during the time when sane people are supposed to be sleeping so that they remain sane? When that kind of howling happens repetitively that's when a need for a change starts to mean something else.

Not so Cute

I vividly remember that was the case in our house about two years ago. The brand new baby was looking less cute and doing some world class howling. She wasn't hungry and had just been changed. Her endurance was triathlon worthy. Putting her up on my shoulder and doing the back rub had no effect. The arm cradle hold spurred her on to new notes and volume level. Even my patented head-in-hand-one-arm Daddy bounce didn't make a difference.

As the volume increased she started hitting that particular note that babies seem to be able to hit. That note that takes every nerve in your body and twists it. About the third twisting I was looking for a change. I wanted my wife to take her. I wanted to toss her in her cradle in the other room and then run to the shop for my hearing protectors. Better yet I wanted to leave. To go out the front door and outside where there were no crying babies.

A Trip or an Adventure?

You know what the difference is between an adventure and a trip? Between an epic backpacking journey and stroll in the woods with a pack? Between an epic river descent that’s story worthy and a lazy afternoon float? The difference is some howling.

The difference between an adventure and a trip is that on an adventure you reach a point where you want out. Where you decide that this was a stupid idea and you're miserable and tired and ready to quit and do something else. It's the place where you start thinking that jumping off the trail, heading to the road and following it the nearest town is looking really good. It's when you think that leaving the canoe twisted around the rock, climbing up the bank, reaching the road and calling for a ride is sounding a lot more attractive than staying and finishing.

Fail or Fight?

If you head to the town or call the ride, if you quit, you won't have a trip or an adventure. You will have a failure. You will have ended the experience at the worst time and frozen that moment. When you look back on that experience it will be that frozen moment, that failure that will loom in your memory.

What you need to do is dig in and push on. Sweat it out. Put one foot in front of the other over the next mountain, and the next and the next. Pry that canoe off the rock, bail it out, and get pointed downstream again.

Eventually you will cross the last mountain and run the last set of rapids and finish. You will reach home, and throw down the pack and lift the canoe back on the rack. As you think about what you accomplished and reflect on what you endured and survived you will find yourself grinning with an exhilaration that will have totally replaced the former misery. The struggle and the howling will have added the depth and the challenge that transformed your trip into an adventure.

The same thing happens in life and the same thing happens with families. It could be the small moments when handing off the screaming baby and heading for the door seems like a really great decision. Or when watching the game and staying on the couch seems like a much more attractive option than sitting down with your wife and talking some things out.

Or it could be a big moment. A moment when you surrender to the doubts, the fears and the struggle and really walk away, leaving your wife, family, and all your responsibilities for that better life that must be out there.

Most people want a family and a marriage with no problems. When problems do arrive more than a few people think that means that it is time to quit and go looking for some problem free relationships.

Reality Check

Here’s the reality: If your life is coasting along with no worries, with nothing to challenge you, no problems, and no struggles then you're just on a trip. Buy your t-shirt and cheap souvenir and smile for the vacation photo, but don’t try to pretend that your trip is anything like a real adventure. You’re not really earning anything and you’re not accomplishing much.

Here’s some more reality: If you run into problems and you walk away then that’s nothing less than failure. It's quitting. That’s true if you walk away from a parenting problem or an issue in your marriage, and it’s true if you walk away from your family permanently. When you walk away you freeze the failure and make it permanent.

Back to the Howling Baby

The baby was on my shoulder and still screaming. My sore knee was aching and telling me that a few more bounces may create enough pain that I wouldn’t notice the howling. Then, in mid bounce, there was a pause. A catch in the rhythm of the sobs. A shuttering sigh and silence.

My hand came up to cradle a suddenly relaxed little head that was snuggled in under my chin. Peaceful little baby breaths were tickling my skin just above my shirt collar. A little arm with an impossibly tiny hand was curled around my neck. Little legs were drawn up and this sweet smelling, suddenly silent infant was pressed into my chest, molded to my body, and sleeping peacefully without a whimper.

All thoughts of handing her off to anyone else and heading out the door vanished as I sank onto the couch. A warm feeling of joy, peace, wonder, and contentment grew in my chest and worked its way through my body, accompanied by an almost terrifyingly fierce feeling of protection and guardianship. Separate me from this baby? Quit this journey? Avoid these challenges? Leave this family? Over my dead body.

Hang On

Dig in. Roll up your sleeves. See the next problem you face as the defining point where your ordinary life started to move towards adventure status. Stick with it. Don't ignore it and don't walk away. When you reach the end of this journey you will have an eternity to ponder your adventures.