Baby Steps from the Brink
Even though this blog enlists only readers of the finest character, I sense it resonates the most when negative. It’s an unintentional service provided by the candor.
Take, for example, sharing about my near meltdown as an unhappy parent. If you chose not to have kids, it helps stave off regret or second-guessing. If you have kids and struggle at times, it makes you feel better. If you have kids and never struggle, it makes you feel grateful or capable. If you’re trying to have kids unsuccessfully so far, maybe call it a wash between being annoyed at my whining and soothed by sour grapes.
This isn’t quite a retraction of the meltdown post I wrote to commemorate his first year. It’s more like an I’m-trying-and-evolving reflection. My deep reservations about raising children remain. They crystallized into a tidy acronym, CLOT: Clutter, Liability, Overhead, Tasks.
Clots prevent optimization and efficiency. They can be thought of as slow death. I will elaborate at a future time, maybe for his second birthday.
For this update, I want to revisit how I feel about parenthood. In short, it’s really no different than committing to anything big — career, relationship, geographic move. You give up a lot, and you get a lot.
Where do kids net out? I don’t know, but I want to bring up three positives. Experienced parents told me these were coming, but I just didn’t see how they would apply to me. It’s a bit humbling when you feel like you’re different — “I swear, I’m just wired differently” — and then you end up following the same steps everyone else does.
No Longer Just a Blob
Everyone said it would get better after the pooping paperweight stage, when you start to get some feedback and interaction. But I have zero interest in engaging with a toddler with a canine’s personality or really anyone below college age. I tried making small talk with a high school freshman the other day and felt like a dentist.
It does feel good though when I walk in the door after work, and my boy instantly transforms into a quarter-man pep rally. Even if we’re apart for a short time, his baby Alzheimer's kicks in. At Sprouts, my wife took him to the car while I waited in the checkout line. He likes to hang out in the trunk with the hatch open.
When my son spotted me approaching with the shopping cart, he lost his mind hooting and hollering and stomping his feet. I felt like J.T. walking into a millennial-age bachelorette party to the beginning melody of “God Must Have Spent a Little More Time on You.”
Can this be true, tell me can this be real...
Had my boy been more aware of his opposable thumbs, he might have stripped off his Hello Bello diaper and helicoptered it around his giant head. My man, I love celebrating the little things too but I just saw you seven minutes ago.
Watching Them Experience Things for the First Time
This one has brought some unexpected joy. It doesn’t make much sense to me why. I feel visceral emotion watching my child process the world around him. I remember his first smile literally took my breath away. His first bite of broccoli made my face feel warm with pride.
He is mesmerized by trucks, planes and just about any moving thing larger than a RAV4. This month we put him in an open-air tour train, and when it started rolling... The shades of wonder, nervousness and happiness on his face were the highlight of my week if not year.
On Valentine’s Day, we expressed our love for the boy by introducing hallowed In-N-Out. This was a profoundly special moment for me, although I recently decided if I could have only In-N-Out or Chick-fil-A for the rest of my life, the latter would narrowly win due to the variety of sauces.
My boy rose to the occasion in navigating to the proper bun-to-meat ratio:
Not that I’m a model of selflessness, but I think the most rewarding part of having a kid thus far is the impact on grandparents. My parents both turn 67 this year. It’s not unreasonable to say they’re in the last 15-20 percent of life. An hourglass or pie chart representation of this stage also takes my breath away.
Heck, my dad almost died before knowing a grandkid would ever exist. I don’t have a mushy relationship with my parents, but my overriding feelings toward them right now are a) show gratitude and b) soak up remaining time.
Living in different states during COVID has not been conducive to acting on these feelings. But even with only FaceTime and storage-eradicating text threads as the medium, the effect of my child on my parents has been transformative.
They are the ones ironically reduced to a childlike state of wonder when processing their grandchild. They watch every video multiple times, sometimes more than 10, and pinch-and-zoom beyond a pixel’s usefulness.
My brother recently discovered our dad set his phone background to the little boy, and it's such a surprising, incongruous, heartwarming thought if you know my quirky dad. He does not know how to express sentimentality.
But now he always seems to be within arm's reach of an assortment of props — squeeze toys, pineapples, bike helmets — to assist his desperate attempts on FaceTime to draw a laugh from the child emperor. One time his buffoonery kept escalating as the emperor appeared to remain indifferent. My father kept working harder and harder, frantic, until my mother informed him she was watching a video, not FaceTiming.
Thank you for listening to that riveting story. It remains a consistent source of uncontrollable laughter for my mom, while my dad insists the narrative is overdone and his antics only lasted a few seconds.
My parents don't have a lot of hobbies outside of traveling. Even when that becomes available again, they can only go on so many cruises. Their grandson gives them something else. Call it purpose, new energy, even just a diversion with end-of-life planning no longer in the “rainy day” pile.
Perhaps I'm stretching here, but having a kid kind of feels like a way to pay back my parents in a small way. It brings them a joy and vigor that I've never seen in them before. I even wonder if this will extend their life along with enriching it.
This isn't to draw any universal conclusions about how people want to age or filial duty to provide grandchildren. I very hypocritically love how our birth rates are in decline and do not believe everyone should reproduce. I just understand a little better why people do.
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