By Jay Van Loenen

I was single for the majority of my life. Other than short relationships I had never really spent a great deal of time with the fairer sex, and therefore had not become accustomed to the very different way women have of dealing with certain things when, at 37, I finally married. For instance, I might once have had a pair of shoes next to the door for a week or more without wearing them or I might decide on a Friday afternoon to leave for a weekend with friends.

Now that I am married, however, these behaviors, and many others, have had to be tempered. I know that if I have not worn a pair of shoes for over a day, they had best not remain next to the door. I also know that if I haven’t made plans at least a week ahead of time, I’ll never get them on the schedule because she’ll have something planned already, or at least have been expecting me to spend the time with her.

All of this is fair enough, and most of the changes are, after an adjustment period, totally understandable and even sensible. The learning curve was steep, given my long bachelorhood, but most of the major hurdles had been negotiated without great ado. One adjustment, though, that I still struggle with understanding regularly (a conservative estimate would time it at weekly) is the notion that hunger, unattended to, can (and often does) becomes anger with little or no warning.

We can be hanging out on a Saturday afternoon enjoying ourselves and having a really great time, when out of the blue she’s pissed. Perhaps I’ve looked at her wrong or changed lanes incorrectly, or smiled… Whatever the infraction, it takes the blame for a sudden onslaught of hostility and I am blindsided, head spinning with a lack of understanding. Then she mentions food, and the light comes on in the back of my mind that says, “Oh, she’s hangry.”

My wife’s cousin introduced me to the word “hangry”, and it’s a perfect example of a portmanteau, described to Alice by Humpty Dumpty, in Lewis Carrol’s Through The Looking Glass, as “…two meanings packed into one word.” Ever since then, the term “hangry” has become a part of my regular vocabulary, and it helps me understand what’s going on in my wife’s brain when she explodes unpredictably around meal time. Though that whole planning ahead thing seems like it might help with this problem if properly applied…

Then came the baby.  The term hangry had meaning for me already by the time he arrived. He’s been part of our family since February 8th now, so we’re becoming accustomed to one another, which is good, since I am the stay at home dad. For instance, I can tell when he’s hungry, tired, bored, antsy, feeling sick, etc. without much difficulty, and he can tell that I’m tall and funny looking—at least that’s the message that I get from his body language: looking up and smiling a lot.

We’ve been lucky with him. People keep telling us what a delightful baby he is, and I have to remind myself regularly not to take for granted how easy he is to deal with. He rarely cries, with the exception of when he’s feeling sick or after he’s had his immunization boosters, he smiles readily at whomever happens to be cooing over him, he goes to sleep when we put him down without protest or further intervention, and he sleeps through the night. Every night.

Once in a while though, ever since he was about four months old, he’ll wake up hungry. No, that’s not right. He wakes up hungry every morning. Once in a while he wakes up hangry. Instead of waking up and softly gooing to himself for a half hour or so he wakes up screaming for food. Now, this is my first baby, so I don’t have experience enough to know for sure, but I think this is pretty normal behavior. The problem is that it’s so totally out of character for my easy-going baby.

I blame my wife. You see, when I get hungry, I just figure out what I want to eat (she’ll tell you that my ability to figure that out is far less developed than I make it sound) and eat it. But I don’t get angry about it. This phenomenon was totally foreign to me until I married. It can’t be my fault.

We all get traits we’d rather not inherit passed down from our parents. I got indigestion and arthritis from my dad, mild OCD and road rage from my mom, and I don’t want these things. I try my best to avoid them, but they are programmed into me. Maybe this hangry thing is just a baby phase, but maybe it’s one of those things that my wife’s genes have made inevitable in my son. Or maybe I just want someone to blame for being rudely awakened in the morning to screaming instead of soft baby noises. Hopefully he doesn’t inherit my inability to wake up happy…

Either way, it’s always a surprise to find out who I’m going to encounter when I wake up in the morning. Will Dr. Happy wake me gently by pleasantly conversing with the animals marching around his at  mobile, or will Mr. Hangry’s scream pierce my dreams and yank me from slumber by the hair? Whichever it is, the eventual effect is the same: he gets the bottle and I get to watch his inquisitive eyes try to figure out why dad’s hair is such a mess every morning. And eventually I get that first smile of the day. The magic formula turns Mr. Hangry back into Dr. Happy, and we start our day.

Only time will tell if my son grows out of the hangry phase or continues through life flying unexpectedly off the handle when hunger pangs set in. At least I’m ready for it. And hopefully whomever he chooses to spend his life with figures it out too. Maybe, assuming I like the person, I’ll help with some advice. Or maybe I’ll just observe from afar and see how long it takes to figure out, trying not to laugh out loud when Mr. Hangry comes calling and knowing, with both satisfaction and regret, that it’s no longer in my hands to supply the magic formula.