Parenting: A dad’s year in review
Before my son was born, I think I had a fantasy that working from home as a writer was entirely compatible with taking care of a baby.
After all, babies nap, babies play, and what baby wouldn’t be perfectly happy quietly cooing in a playpen next to his father’s desk, while I got hours and hours of actual work done each day. I could even read him my work, and it would help strengthen our early bonding. And when I needed a break, we would play. We’d have a schedule. My schedule. Of course. Sure, it wouldn’t be quite that easy all the time, but we’d make it work. And by the time he was a few months old, walking, talking, putting himself down for his naps and training himself to use the toilet, maybe he could start working on a few writing projects of his own, on a mini-typewriter I’d find for him on eBay.
Clearly, I had spent limited time around babies.
And of course I’m exaggerating what my expectations were, but I pretty quickly realized that babies need a bit more help for a bit more time than I might have initially hoped for, and that the only schedule a baby is going to follow is his own. I have spent 2014 working from home as a writer in the bursts of time that other people have been watching my son, or he has been napping, or, recently, while he stands in his playpen and bangs on the piano keyboard next to my desk and I tune out the sound, for about twelve minutes until he gets bored. There are weeks when most of the writing I do is in the form of e-mails filled with aspirational truths like, “yes, I definitely have time to work on that,” or, “my schedule is totally flexible this week,” or, “I am actually finishing that up right now, and certainly not typing this with one hand while I change a diaper with the other and use my feet to pour milk into a bottle.” I commit first, then I panic, and then somehow I guess things have gotten done, but I’m not sure I actually remember doing any of them.
So the biggest thing I learned about parenting in 2014 is that is that it’s very hard to do that while also sitting in front of a computer and typing things. But that’s not the only thing I learned. Here are some more:
— You cannot read your baby’s mind.
I truly believed that given how many hours I would be taking care of my son and how much attention I would be paying to him, it would be inevitable that I would be able to recognize everything he was thinking and feeling. So if he even hinted at getting upset, I would immediately understand why and be able to correct the situation. This belief is completely contradicted every time he arches his back and decides he will not let me strap him into his car seat.
— Sleep deprivation does not get easier.
I guess I was naive about the sleep deprivation. I figured that since generations of humans have had babies, and continue to do so, the sleep must not be so bad. If it was so terrible, people would stop having babies. This is wrong. It was hard at the beginning, to wake up multiple times during the night to feed him, and it continues to be hard, a year later, waking up because he is hungry, or he has gas, or (my theory) he has adopted the biphasic sleep schedules that people may or may not have had during colonial times, depending on which website you believe. We may be having him read the wrong websites about proper sleep habits.
— It is hard to do everything right.
I imagine most if not all first-time parents try to do absolutely everything as perfectly as possible, to maximize the growth and development of their baby. I read a lot of books before my son was born, and scrolled through a lot of Internet message boards. Mostly, this has just made me afraid to do things. Afraid that one second of television will destroy his brain forever, that one grain of added sugar or salt will cause future health problems, that one encounter with an unclean object will cause him to catch the Plague. It is hard to live with all of these rigid rules. Especially since they almost certainly don’t need to be as rigid as I sometimes assume they do.
— You can get better at changing diapers, but you will still sigh every time you hear the sounds of poo.
I can’t wait until he’s old enough to use a toilet.
— You will get more excited by the first belly laugh, or wave of a hand, or unsolicited kiss than you ever thought possible.
People say that this all moves quickly, that you blink and they’re no longer babies but they’re in high school and going off to college… but that hasn’t been my experience yet, not at all. To some extent I’m sure it’s because I’m home during the day, but this year has felt very, very long. The lack of sleep doesn’t help, of course. Despite that, the daily highs are so high — the moment he starts to demonstrate a new skill, or finds something unexpectedly funny, or even just smiles a big, unconstrained smile. Or those moments when your eyes lock and you do feel that connection, that mind-reading you didn’t think could actually happen, that bond, that click.
In 2015, I hope he learns to sleep through the night, I hope he continues to laugh and smile — heck, I hope he learns to change his own diaper and write for me the things I keep assuring people I am right in the middle of and will have for them shortly. Mostly I hope I can keep having the good fortune to worry mostly about the little things, like sleeping and mind-reading, because that will probably mean he’s doing pretty well.
Originally published at www.contributoria.com.