One unexpected advantage to our baby’s arrival is the ceasing of wish-I-thought-of-it-first phrases like “Your life is about to change forever” and “Get all the sleep you can now because you never will again!” I could take a sabbatical from work and pen a white paper on the absurdity and lack of originality of both of those comments.
Two weeks after our son Luke’s birth, life has indeed changed (sound the trumpets!) and sleep is a bit more disjointed (be still my soul!). But there’s more to it than that. Here’s what people didn’t tell me to expect:
1. Everyone Has the Right Answer
I admit, when it comes to parenting, I’m pretty green. But in terms of dealing with human beings, I think I do have some experience there. I also concede that the dozens of parents who have offered their perspectives on how to correctly burp a child, soothe a child, and feed a child — they probably know a thing or two.
I didn’t, though, realize that every parent thinks they have parenting by the balls. Or that any phrase starting with “Well, when ‘x’ was born, we …” would be so annoying. Add to that the phrases, “Well, OUR daughter slept through the night starting at week two,” or “Well, OUR son couldn’t adjust to his crib after [insert method of soothing a child here].” Or any phrase that implies how much better their child was than ours. These pieces of advice equate to instances when you try to tell an amazing story to your friends, and then “that one guy” always has to insert his two cents about how his story is better, thus stealing the story from you.
You know what? If I want my child to sleep in his swing for two hours while I scour Facebook, so be it. He’s asleep dammit. Praise the Lord. And if I tend to his needs every time he cries, just smile and admire how loving I am. If I neglect to tarp his penis while changing him and he baptizes me with his urine (like every boy does to his father), we don’t need your ten minute story of how it happened to you too. Let my experience be unique to me.
Now, I know that all of our friends are well-intentioned and only want to bond with us and Luke during these early days. What better way than to share stories? There exists a sharp division, though, between an amusing anecdote and an unsolicited piece of advice.
2. I Know More About Circumcision Than I Ever Wanted to Know
Because a little genital mutilation never hurt anybody, we did have Luke circumcised. Thanks to Shawnee Mission Medical Center’s policy of never separating parent and baby, I tagged along, Panera coffee in hand, to Luke’s first (and probably not last) humiliating experience being naked in front of another woman.
I didn’t think I could cross my legs any tighter than I did. Needles and scissors and foreskin. Enough to make a grown man both curious and terrified.
3. My Wife Has Unflinching Stamina
The Laura before delivery and the Laura after delivery are two different creatures. It used to be that the only sound that could awaken her from a deep sleep was the sound of urine trickling out of Grendel and onto our bedroom carpet. Everything else: thunder, fierce sunlight, nuclear blast — zzzz’s. Now, with a slightest chirp from Luke’s throat, she perks up with the posture of a meerkat. She has, bless her heart, taken on the burden of sleepless nights. If she’s tired, annoyed, or distraught, you wouldn’t know it. It’s to the point that the other day, when I let it spill how tired I was that I only soaked in 7 hours of sleep, the guilt from that comment kept me awake the next night.
I realize, now, why Mother’s Day exists.
…which leads me to…
4. I Suck at Getting Up In the Middle of the Night
While I do wake up nearly every morning around 2 or 3 to let the dogs out to pee, I have learned to accomplish that task without opening both eyes and without really having to acknowledge that I am, indeed, awake. I am blessed with the sick talent of sleeping while standing at the backdoor. And, to which many guys can probably relate and much to the dismay of our house cleaner, I can keep those eyes closed even while making a pitstop in the bathroom on the way back to bed.
A child, however, requires a much more alert presence from his parents. I’m not sure why Laura has only asked me once to change a diaper in the middle of the night. I can only imagine that my changing skills and level of coherence at such an hour was alarming enough to her to just do it herself next time. I’m a work in progress.
5. It’s More Awkward Than I Thought Reading To a Newborn
What one pictures those first nights to be and what they really are: a grand canyon of differences. I had this image of sitting in the rocking chair, next to the crib, lamplight on, whispering “Goodnight Moon” from the pages until Luke dozed off. Then Laura and I would both walk him to his crib, place him in gently, watch his smiling face sleep soundly before exchanging a small kiss of our own and heading to bed.
Instead, Luke sleeps soundly from about 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., with a few feeding breaks and diaper changes to inconvenience him. The rest of the night is a series of g-rated expressions that could otherwise be translated to “Go the f-$% to sleep.” I sing to him. I play a silly game called “jump on the lily pad!” which is basically me interrupting his crying by lifting him from pillow to pillow on the couch to confuse the hell out of him long enough to stifle his sounds. Laura feeds him. Rocks him. The dogs lift their heads from their own naps wondering why the hell he just won’t go to sleep. And we pick up the book only to have to read it loud enough so that it can be heard over whining. Even when he does quiet down, he seems more interested in the corner of the bed post than on any clever text from “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?”
We teach English. We should be used to children not paying attention when we open up a book. But there’s something almost embarrassing about knowing with 100% certainty that your audience (i.e. your son) has no flipping clue what you’re saying, if you’re saying anything, and wonders if that book has a nipple that excretes milk.
6. I Clean a Lot of Dishes
In our nearly six years of marriage, it wasn’t peculiar for us to say something like “Wow, we’ve eaten at home three nights in a row!” Chinese food, bar food, Mexican, and pizza are rotating staples in this house. So when my mother in law stayed with us for the first week, it was the first time we had eaten at home for five consecutive days. Some realizations from that experience: There exists a bewildering ratio of spoons to forks (where are the forks?) in our kitchen. I need more whisks. Our dishwasher is the boss. I use nearly every pot, pan, cutting board, and knife each time I cook. I think Food Network should end each show not with the chef tasting the meal but with that asshole cleaning up the kitchen. Folks wouldn’t cook half the dishes on that network if they knew the countertops would look like the beaches of Normandy when all was said and done.
Needles to say, my crockpot starred in two meals in the last week. And, in a nod to my mom’s tricks when she didn’t want to dirty anymore dishes, I’ve busted out the paper plates. (Sorry, Earth.)
7. Changing Diapers is a Lot Like Changing Tires at a Nascar Race
It must be swift or else it will end in disaster. Take too long, you’re pissed on. Take longer, he cries. Admittedly, I had sweat beads on my forehead during my first diaper change at the hospital. After a few dozen diaper changes, it’s clear my son hates being naked (something not inherited from his father), he hates being cold, and he’d rather just wipe his own ass. In time, son. In time.
8. Eating Is a Sport
Because Luke’s internal clock tells him to wake up annoyingly close to our dinner time, we usually waste no time once food hits table. No more pleasantries like, “Wow, you really can taste the cinnamon, can’t you?” Or, “the subtle notes of apricot in the chicken glaze really bring out the fullness of flavor.” Instead, it’s “Hurry! Don’t go to the bathroom now! We need to eat! Bring in two glasses of water for each of us so that we don’t waste time running back to the kitchen! Sit down! Bigger bites!”
Remember the scene in Jurassic Park, when the insufferable characters knew of an approaching T-Rex based on the ripples in the water? And all was still? “Don’t move. Their vision is based on movement,” Dr. Grant would say.
Yeah, that’s us with Luke at 6:30 each night.
9. It Really is a Miracle
Despite the annoyances above, at the end of the day, it’s a miracle. The greatest blessing in my life has been this little guy:
Yes, life is a bit more scrambled these days. But it’s also clearer. My job isn’t to teach students each day how to read and write. My job is to guide this boy to manhood. To love him with the love I have for my God and my wife. I know love. But I didn’t know the level of love that exists like that for your child. My love for Luke makes me appreciate my own parents. That love moves me to suffer with those parents who’ve lost a son or daughter. And that love helps me to realize that it’s not always about me.
Because, really, what could be better than this?