Can't Stop the Madness: A Dad Tries to Stop Overreacting

The latest 'Father Figuring' column
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Do all parents overreact? Or is it just me? I’ve tried to stop, but I can’t!

I think it starts the day they are born. Maybe it’s innate, this desire to protect this thing you’ve created. 

My first remembrance of my parental overexuberance was when my second daughter, Lucy, was about 2 months old. Her older sister, Bailey, was 3. 

As we were learning to maneuver this new man-to-man defense, I picked up our baby when I got home from work one day and cradled her on my shoulder. I immediately noticed a stench. I called for my wife.

“Lucy smells horrible. It’s coming from her ear.”

Lisa sniffed. “That’s bad! I wonder if she has an infection.”

We gave her a bath, which seemed to help the smell, but when we woke her for an 11 p.m. feeding, it had returned.

We were convinced this was serious, perhaps some sort of brain-eating bacteria or an ear fungus. Our minds were filled with worst-case scenarios.

The next day we bathed her again and took her to the doctor’s office. Our regular pediatrician didn’t have an opening so we saw the new guy. He looked to be about 22. 

He held our infant and took a deep sniff, “I don’t smell anything.” He looked in her ears, “I don’t see anything.”

I pressed him. He smelled again. He looked again. Nothing.

“Maybe her sister put something in her ear. Like a pea. Maybe it has disintegrated.”

“Or maybe you are a moron,” I thought. We didn’t even like peas!

We came back home and interrogated Bailey. “Did you put something in your sister’s ear?”

“Yes!” our 3-year-old giggled. 

“What did you put in there?” 

“I didn’t put anything in her ear.” 

She was not a reliable witness. 

We put our clearly sick child to bed for her nap. I will admit, she didn’t smell as bad as she had the night before, and she seemed as happy as a lark. But when she woke, the odor was back.

One critically important note: Lucy was an incessant slobberer. If we removed her bib for any length of time, her onesie would soak with spit.

As I rocked our “sick” yet amazingly content baby, a light went off in my head. I got into her crib and began to explore like a bloodhound. Aha! Although Lucy’s sheets had been washed, her mattress pad had not been. And the drool had left a horrible odor. Her little ear would lay flat on the bed and the smell would permeate it. 

Our child was healed! We could rest. The hysteria would cease … for the moment. 

It returned when Bailey was bullied — I use that term loosely — in preschool. And again when a tooth had to be extracted. And again when the girls weren’t invited to a classmate’s birthday party, got their license, went on their first date … you get the picture. I’ve tried to stop the madness. I can’t. I guess I just love them way too much.


Bruce Ham, who lives in Raleigh, started writing after losing his wife and raising his three daughters on his own. He has written a book, “Laughter, Tears and Braids,” about their journey, and writes a blog about his family’s experiences at


Categories: Family, Lifestyle