I had forgotten how frustrating it can be to hold a crying newborn. As a father, you are nothing more to a crying baby than just another funny shaped couch that Mom has abandoned you on.

I was reminded of this fact the other day when my less than a week old little boy woke up screaming the moment my wife stood up from the bed and headed towards the bathroom. I lifted the little man to my chest and began dancing around the room with him, but of course, this did nothing to satisfy his blind desires for comfort and food. I grit my teeth and sighed at my own inadequacy.

As I bounced and twirled around impatiently awaiting Andrea’s return, I was suddenly aware that there was someone else in the room with me. Clara had heard the squall of her little brother and had come to stand watch. She followed my movements in circles around the room like an odd little shadow. A silent little fairy, innocently mocking my movements.

When I finally turned my tired and frustrated gaze away from the screaming hunk of dynamite in my arms, I realized that Clara was watching her brother intently and holding her arms across her chest like she was shivering. I stopped twirling, and looked at her. A moment later she matched my movements and also stopped twirling.

“Clara,” I said, “What are you doing? Are you cold?”

“No.” she responded, her eyes still locked on the tiny siren.

“What are you doing with your arms?” I asked.

She looked down at her awkwardly placed arms hugging her own chest, and then looked back at me. “I’m doing this in case you hand me the baby.” She held her arms up and showed me that she had created a flat spot with her forearms and was holding both of her elbows to keep it secure.

I realized now what was happening. The same noise that had made me want to retreat into the forest and abandon all responsibility had summoned her up from the living room where she had left her toys and books so she could now dance delicately in my shadow waiting for a chance to hold her baby brother.

I have always believed that mothers are born along side their babies. That they are created at the moment they are given the title of mother. As if by magic, the instincts and desires suddenly appear like a green oak tree rising up from the vital ground. But I now have seen that the seeds of this great tree of motherhood are planted much earlier in life. They begin in dimly lit bedrooms, dancing in their father’s shadow, arms crossed and waiting. Quietly waiting. Patiently waiting to be born.

The sleeping babysitter