FICTION

All the Difference in the World

Here’s a sprightly story for all men who don’t adore babies— and for all women who don't like men who don't adore babies

WILLIAM L. WORDEN February 15 1943
FICTION

All the Difference in the World

Here’s a sprightly story for all men who don’t adore babies— and for all women who don't like men who don't adore babies

WILLIAM L. WORDEN February 15 1943

All the Difference in the World

Here’s a sprightly story for all men who don’t adore babies— and for all women who don't like men who don't adore babies

WILLIAM L. WORDEN

IN THE first place, all I did was innocently to mention at a bridge party that I thought most children were spoiled, and that their parents spent too much time talking about them. I was a little annoyed, having just gone down four doubled during a fascinating conversation between my partner and Elva Disney about a new formula for fat brats.

That is how 1 became a menace, just with those few words. Now, you can hate spinach, and nobody cares. People dislike cats and go right on having friends. But if you are not a baby enthusiast, you are a blot on the landscape. Having been a blot, I know.

“You think you’re intelligent as all get out, Joe,” Elva said. “Maybe you are a good lawyer, but you’re just not normal. You’ve never grown up yourself or you’d like babies. I feel sorry for your wife.”

I did not know what to say, so I said nothing.

I did not know what to do, either, on the evening when we stopped on the way to a concert to see the Edwin Jones’ new baby. Frankly, I could see no difference between Edwin, Jr., and any one of a hundred other infants just out of hospitals. I did make w7hat I thought were the proper sounds of appreciation. I said, “Having such a pretty mother, I imagine he’ll be very handsome when he grows up.”

But I must have done it badly. Katherine Jones had been bending over this ball of blankets encircling a face, but suddenly she handed him to me. I had to take him or allow him to fall, and as it was I nearly dropped him. Katherine watched me with a smug smile, and when she took him back, she looked, at the damp spot on my dinner coat without remorse.

“I’m not as sorry as I should be,” she told me. “Candidly, I think a few experiences like that would be good for a child hater.”

I said, “It’s quite all right.” It was, too. I had never been enthusiastic about the concert.

Neither of these incidents seemed important; but later I began to realize that the situation was becoming serious. One Saturday Jane and I decided a big picnic would be fun. So, in rotation, we called most of the couples we knew, old friends who had played together since most of us were married at about the same time, four or five years before. But none of them was at home, so we picnicked alone. It was fun, but not as much as it might have been. On Monday, when I met Jim Frye, I asked him where everyone had been.

“Oh, we were all at the beach,” he said. “The whole gang went down and rented a block of cottages. The Disneys, the Smiths, the Dave Edwards and Mary and I.”

I said, “Well, Jim, I’m a good lawyer but not devious. How did we get on the black list? I thought Jane and I used to know you people.”

He looked really surprised. “You know better than that, Joe. But we were all taking our kids along and w7e all know how you feel about them. Everybody just agreed that you wouldn’t enjoy

yourself, listening to them howl and watching them have their noses wiped.”

I went home and told Jane, who was not as surprised as I had expected. “I might have guessed,” she said. “I know most of them resent your attitude.”

I said, “Look here, Mrs. Winters—” Then I decided it was no particular use.

the damage. We went

But I did try to repair along on the next beach trip, and I campaigned. I told Elva Disney her daughter’s hair was beautiful (confidentially, it was no such thing, but only stringy). For Mary and Jim Frye I worked out a speech about the football build of their older son. I admired young Smith’s pale blue eyes (washed-out blue, to be honest). Then, finally,

I manoeuvred Johnny Edwards by himself on the beach. He was a skinny youngster three or four years old, but at least he did not break into tears at the sight of me, which is more than I can say for most of them. I think some of those mothers enforced discipline by telling their offspring that Bogey-Man Winters would get them if they misbehaved.

But Johnny was a little different. I built him a castle in the sand and he seemed to have a lot of fun watching the tide swirl up through the moat. When he tired he grasped my hand to be led back to his mother who showed her appreciation verbally.

“Jane,” she said, “I think Joe’s grand. There isn’t another man here who would take all that trouble to amuse a child —and it must have been torture to him, the way he hates children.”

I’d had some fun myself with Johnny, but I couldn’t see that my campaign was doing so well.

That night Jane and I talked quite a while, and after we went back to town we talked some more. It was a long time before I realized that she really was worried. I said, “Now look here, my little onion, I thought we understood each other, but perhaps we don’t.

I don’t care much about

babies; so what? Some people don’t like spinach.” She said, “I was just wondering about us, Joe. I—I think I’m going to have a baby.”

Funny, but that idea had never occurred to me. Anyway, I was pleased.

The books said quite a lot about what a husband should do before and after the baby arrived, but they did not tell me what to do about Elva Disney or my mother.

Jane told me about Elva. She had not been sure just what she expected Elva to say when she learned of our approaching event. What Elva did say was, “Oh, Jane, what are you going to do about Joe? Aren’t you just petrified for fear he won’t like the baby?”

Nice, tactful girl, Elva.

My mother came to stay with us that winter. She took over the house in grand fashion; and one night when I was fixing the furnace in the basement—where I could hear every word—she reassured Jane.

“I don’t think you need to worry about Joe,” she said. “I know how he is about children and I suppose he’s been sulking; but having one of his own will make all the difference in the world. Just wait and see.”

When I came upstairs my mother was very busy sewing, using those quick little stitches she always uses when she is quite sure she is in the right.

All in all, I felt a little unpopular that winter except with Jane.

At the hospital, finally, I suppose nothing happened to me that has not happened, one way or another, to most new fathers. The nurses gave me one last moment alone with Jane.

“I’m all right, Joe,” she said. “I was scared a while ago but I’m all right now.”

When it isn’t important I can usually think of a

fairly well-rounded phrase. But what I said this time was, “Keep your chin up, honey. Nothing to worry about. The doctor’s had hundreds of babies.”

After she had gone, I realized that was not precisely what I meant to say.

Later, things were a little confused. After an interminable period a nurse showed me a bundle. She said, “Meet your daughter,” and whisked the bundle down a corridor. Five minutes later, as I was telephoning, she came back, red-faced, and admitted that we had a man-child instead. To this day I have never been able to convince anyone that the mistake was not mine.

The nurse only smiled when I asked about Jane, but the physician was one fellow male in a strange world. He said simply, “Your wife came through very nicely, Joe.”

I would not have cared then if the child had turned out to be triplets.

When they finally let me see Jane, after a long time, I will admit I did not notice the baby by her side until she called my attention to him. Then I took my first good look at him, or rather, at the portion of his face above the carefully swathed blankets. My son was sound asleep, and had his features already arranged for a waking howl. He looked exactly like all the other babies in that swarming hospital nursery. To be honest, that is all I remember noticing about him in the two weeks that my interest was centred in the third

floor corridor, with its odor of disinfectant and fading roses.

After they were both at home, I took considerably more notice. Of course, Jane was ordered to rest. My mother developed a peculiar case of buck fever and was totally unable to touch the child for fear of breaking him. Both she and the practical nurse, efficient-looking in a white cap she had unexpectedly produced for the home-coming, merely snorted at the young pediatrician who came out to explain how the child should be fed and exactly what amounts of food he should have.

I looked at the two women, saw rebellion on their faces and began taking notes. The pediatrician was far too expensive to be ignored; although I must admit I had previously overlooked the possibility of having to follow his orders in person.

Literal-mindedness has always been one of my minor difficulties. Thus I supposed that the young, modern doctor, when he said a baby should have so much food, meant that he should have so much food. Sometimes young Mike went to sleep in the middle of the proceedings, so I woke him up again. Almost always he howled, before, during, and after each meal.

Some meals took the outlined twenty minutes. Some took an hour, so that Mike barely got back to sleep in his basket before time for the next feeding. Twice I tried turning the whole job over to the nurse but she had no better luck. (My mother would have none of it.)

I no longer have my former faith in the feminine instinct about the very young.

I GOT some sleep that first week, but not much. I had an important court case, and lost it. At the end of the week my mother went home and Jeannette Smith called on Jane for the first time.

My mother cornered me in the railroad station. “You be nice to that baby even if you don’t like him, Joe,” she said. “Whether you want to or not, you just act as though you thought he was wonderful. Jane expects it of you.”

I said, “He seems to be whole and healthy. I don’t see any necessity for him to be wonderful.”

My mother neglected to say good-by as she boarded the train.

Jeannette closed the door when she went into Jane’s room, but Jane told me about the conversation afterward. “She wanted to know,” Jane said, “how you were taking the baby and whether you were acting right.”

I asked, “Am I?”

“Very much all right, Joe,” she said. “I think I’m strong enough to be kissed once more today.”

The automatic bottle warmer in the kitchen began to sizzle, interrupting the kiss. A meal began instead, a meal just a little worse than any of those before. Mike yelled until his food was warm, yelled while I was trying to get him to take it. I was a long time. He would yell a while and I’d wait for him to quiet. After forty-five minutes with no appreciable progress, I began to be a little annoyed in spots. I said, “Look here, you little—”

There I stopped. Mike wasn’t either of the things I thought of calling him, and I could remember no other good mouth-happy words. So I just sat and scowled at him; and he, between howls, scowled right back.

Just then I heard Jane coming. I said, “Go back, woman, before I really lose my temper. I’m having trouble enough trying to enforce one doctor’s orders without having you start in with another set.”

She hesitated and turned around. But on her way back she looked over

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All the Difference In the World

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her shoulder. “Maybe,” she said, “he’d eat better if he thought you loved him just a little, Joe.”

“Personally,” I said—and I kept my voice low—“I don’t think love has anything to do with it. I think the doctor ordered twice too much food.”

But it was undeniably true that some sort of conditioned reflex was being set up in that ten-pound lump of stubbornness. For him, Papa and yelling were interconnected. All that was needed to set him off in a gale of howling was the sight of my features. They’ve been called expressive, although not handsome.

After another week I gave up. I did so when Jane, on her first attempt, fed Mike all his food and the meal ended with satisfied gurgles.

The war boom was just beginning, and household help disappeared overnight. So Jane took care of Mike and I managed the furnace and ever-full washing machine. When I had a few minutes I tried to catch up on some law work at the office. My secretary, who falls short of the movie specifications for an office wife but is nevertheless efficient, had been doing most of it.

Mike’s aversion to me lasted a long time. In fact it gave every indication of being permanent, and so did some other difficulties. After watching a few of my short-tempered efforts I to amuse him Jane viewed me with deep suspicion and would not trust me for weeks even to straighten the covers on his crib.

There was some reason, at least in her own mind.. I suppose that somewhere in the world there is a father who never once reached the end of his patience with a very young heir, but I am not that parent. I paddled —or to be honest, I should say patted —Mike three times all right. Perhaps I am a monster, but find me a father who won’t confess at least one such lapse.

The first time was when Mike was six months old. Three diapers in a row, propelled by lusty kicks, went on the floor, followed by a can of baby powder spreading out in a white cloud. I grabbed both his heels in my left hand and applied my right as a warning. Actually, it wasn’t more than a brisk pat; but the trouble was Jane saw it, and refused to speak to me for a full day.

The second time was months later, when at last I convinced her that I was a changed man and that she should take an hour’s drive just for the fresh air. Mike was asleep when she left. Five minutes later he woke up with a yell, yelled while I put a pair of overalls on him and yelled when I set him on the floor. I dangled a rattle in front of him. I made supposedly amusing noises. Then I got a bottle of orange juice and tried to drown out the yells. At the end of ; half an hour I turned him face down I across my knee and was about to i allow the right hand to descend when | Jane walked in. Mike, of course, was ; screaming murder.

“You,” she said, “have been beating him again.”

I was a little out of sorts. “I whaled him,” I exaggerated.

“If I had known how it would be,” she said, “I would never have had him. Elva was right all the time. You don’t love him at all.”

“Elva,” I said, “my eye! What this kid needs is some discipline.”

I had more to say, but there was no use. The door to the nursery was being slammed and my wife and son were on the other side, both weeping.

I went to the office and was unpleasant to my secretary, a nice girl if not beautiful.

THE third time was a month after that, when I made another desperate attempt. “You,” I told Jane, “are flirting with a nervous breakdown.” There were no baby-tenders to be had at any price.

“Go to a movie,” I told her. “Go see somebody else’s infant. Go anywhere, but get away from here for an afternoon.”

“I know I should, Joe,” she admitted, “but I’m not sure. If you only had a little affection for Mike.” “We’ll get along fine,” I told her. “You can see how he’s playing now. He’ll just get sleepy after a while and I’ll put him to bed.”

So she left.

Everything was fine for the first fifteen minutes. I think Mike had not discovered her absence. Then he began looking for her, crawling into her bedroom and searching in the closets. I thought a crisis was coming, but it was delayed. I put him to bed and he went to sleep without protest. I felt wonderful.

He stayed asleep almost an hour, for a record; and I don’t think he would have wakened then except for the telephone bell. It was Jane, calling from the Frye’s place.

“Everything’s swell,” I told her. “Stay as long as you like.”

When I was sure Mike was awake I got him out of bed and dug up a rattle, a red pasteboard automobile and a toy cornet. I’m not bad on the toy cornet, but he was unamused.

When he began to yell I reasoned with him. I made everything clear. “Now look here,” I told him, “you and I are going to get along if it kills us. I have been in the doghouse long enough on account of you, and I’m not going there again. So watch yourself.”

He didn’t like the red automobile, either.

Then I tried to put on his overalls. He lay on his back, kicking and screaming, and succeeded in foiling each new effort before I had it well planned. I tried diverting him, tried holding all of him down, tried holding down one leg at a time, tried even the usually potent drink of orange juice. Still nothing happened —or, rather, stopped happening. He was not going to have those overalls on his legs nor did he intend to stop yelling. The howls were rhythmic and ear-piercing, and they lasted almost an hour. The collar of my shirt was a little damp by then, but I was still collected if not cool.

At the end of the hour I fooled him. With one hand I flipped him over unexpectedly on his stomach. With the other I applied what I

considered justified. While he was ¡ still stunned with surprise I put both his legs in the overalls and shook him down into them.

Simultaneously, he recovered his voice and Jane walked in the front i door.

“I will never,” she said, “trust you again. Child-beater!”

“I will,” I said, “make a decently behaved brat out of this chunk of orneryness if I have to slap him silly to do it.”

“You will not,” she said, “slap any child of mine.”

So I went to the office. Miss Cavóla quit at five o’clock. Jobs were plentiful, she said, and she did not have to stand for such a temper from anyone.

A five-dollar raise and an abject apology postponed that calamity, but they did not help any when I

r

went home again. Jane was gone, with Mike and all his gear. There wasn’t even a note.

It was a queer separation. For one j thing, Jane had no mother of her own, so she went down in the country to my mother. I knew, because my mother wrote me a card that said, “Jane and the baby are here,” and nothing else.

I had a divorce action in court that week and won it easily. One of the men with whom I had gone to law school came up after it was over and congratulated me. “That speech about what the woman had done to your client was a honey,” he said, “but I can’t figure out how you could work up that much enthusiasm over a fifty-dollar case.”

I said, “It’s a hobby with me. I hate to see men get pushed around all the time.”

Unfortunately, I had less success in staying mad in the evenings. The house got cold because I forgot to keep the furnace filled, and dishes , piled up in the kitchen sink. Jeannette Smith called one night to invite us to a bridge party and I had a hard | time refusing without explaining. And, to be frank, I missed the uproar centring around Mike. When he did want to be decent, he was a cute little animal.

I STUCK it out for a week—or almost a week. Perhaps if I had waited until Saturday things might have been different, because I’m ¡

reasonably sure that is when Jane was expecting me.

However, I arrived at my mother’s place on Friday evening instead, just as Mike’s dinner was being served. Jane was doing the feeding and reasoning with him, my mother was trying to distract his attention with a celluloid fish, and Mike was voicing his usual opinion of the world in general. In fact I was just in time to see his angry little fist propel most of his meal off the table of his high chair to cascade down the front of Jane’s dress.

Jane did not see me in the door of the kitchen immediately—not until after she had turned to my mother in despair and on the verge of tears. “I just don’t know what to do with him,” she said. “He’s worse-behaved every day.”

I said, “I’d slug him one.”

Now I won’t pretend that I planned it, or that I knew what would come next. As a matter of fact, Mike did not actually duck when he heard my voice. He only looked as though he were about to duck. His eyes are blue and roundish, and they got rounder. Jane stood up—getting ready to defend her son, I think -and I sat down where she had been. Mike had stopped yelling and was looking at me, so I stuck a spoonful of cereal in his mouth.

He ate it. Perhaps he was scared, or maybe he just did not know what else to do, but he ate that mouthful and the others I shoved at him as fast as he could swallow. Even when I scrubbed his face after the meal was over he didn’t yell once. And when I put him on the floor and walked away, he came after me, using that combination of Australian crawl and jitterbugging that he substitutes for a walk.

He came all the way across the room to where I was sitting and pulled himself up by my trouser leg, grinning like an ape and making sounds to himself that were somewhere between “Duck-duck” and “Ogle-gogle.”

Nobody said anything. My mother, who is a diplomat occasionally if not always, found some business outside, and Jane and I just looked at each other. Finally she shrugged and began to laugh.

“Well,” she said, “if he hasn’t any more judgment than that, I’m wasting my time protecting him from you.”

So everything was very much all right and they both came home again. For no reason at all Mike got over his stubborn streak all at once and has been a lot of fun. Jane’s slapped him a few times, but I haven’t had to tan his bottom once again.

It’s nice not to be a menace any more, and to have our old friends back. Of course, I still get in trouble now and then.

Like last night. I was telling somebody about my theory on child discipline and I forgot to count the trumps. Elva Disney, who was my partner, was a little annoyed.