(The Humanitarian Social Network)
This post first appeared on the original (blogspot) version of Tales From the Hood (now closed), on 21 October, 2008. Reposting for posterity.
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Confusion & Delay
There is nothing quite like being a parent.
I have ridden motorcycles in shorts, sometimes with no helmet, and I have crashed twice – once into a BMW; I have traveled through war zones on two continents, and I have remained standing during a mortar attack; I have eaten “happy pizza” in Cambodia, drunk coca tea in Bolivia and been able to keep down fermented cow blood/milk/urine in Sudan; I have handled live cobras; I have been shot at; I have had the symptoms of both dengue fever and malaria; I once went for two weeks without a shower.
I like to believe that I am not some kind of wuss.
But in the spirit of abject confession I must concede: nothing – nothing has tested me as has parenthood. There is nothing that can bring out the extreme emotions of fear, exhaustion, anger, guilt, humiliation, frustration, anxiety, frustration… and also and sublime contentment more than parenthood.
And I thought marriage was an adjustment.
It’s amazing really. When your wife is pregnant everyone is there offering all kinds of advice. Advice that you can never really comprehend in context. Things like, “go to movies now” or “do your reading now.” But nothing prepares you. Nothing anyone can say can begin to approach preparation for they physical and emotional toll that being the parent of infants and toddlers can take. No one tells you that while you might agree on political affiliation, you will one day go 10 rounds over the pattern of a crib bumper. No one tells you that you’ll have to lift poop out of the bathtub with your bare hands. No one tells you that you’ll have to watch the same Thomas the Tank Engine video 50 times per day.
I'm so freakin' tired of Thomas that I could just about hold his head under the water until he stops struggling. ... And the same goes for Bob the Builder and Dora the Explorer and Drake and Josh and Larry the Cucumber.
My wife says she feels like a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay. She reckons that al Queda suspects would divulge their secrets in droves if forced to care for un-toilet-trained children for months at a time.
And I can see her point. The sleep deprivation, the abuse in a strange and unintelligible language, being forced to assume humiliating positions in front of strangers (anyone who has ever held a baby up in a supermarket to smell it’s bottom – to see if the kid has really pooped or just farted – knows exactly what I’m talking about) all sound eerily similar to what we hear about in late-breaking scandals about how the US military and intelligence communities deal with captive terror suspects. As our children grow past the toddler years, the endless barrage of questions – either the totally random, non-sequitur questions, or the same question repeated ad infinitum – are depressingly similar to the questioning techniques used in prime-time crime dramas.
Parenthood really is it's own kind of torture. There are days as a parent when I, were I under actual interrogation, would probably crack and admit to almost any treasonous or criminal act, just to make it all stop.
No one tells you that your social life will end.
Maybe it’s for the best that it does, at least at the beginning. Priorities change. You watch with a mixture of dismay and resignation as social invitations from people you’d been close to as a couple become fewer and farther between, and then eventually stop altogether. Or perhaps they come, but with the “Adults Only” tag conspicuously added; childless people, whether strangers at Starbuck’s or people who’d been close friends pre-baby, suddenly and increasingly come across as shallow, vain, self-absorbed and vapid. You eventually find yourself incapable of caring about 99% of what they say in your presence; Shows like “Sex in the City” or “Lipstick Jungle” are even more intolerable than pre-parenthood, while the early seasons of “Desperate Housewives” become favored classics; you long for a quiet, uninterrupted meal.
Not that you weren’t gamely trying to be those parents who still “had a life” post baby. You took your drooling infant to the post office, the park, the zoo. But even as the kid(s) grew older, you repeatedly found that it was just far easier to decline the opportunity to schlep your child to a social gathering – even one self-proclaimed as “child friendly” – than to go through the hassle of preparation only to arrive and have to leave early in order to accommodate bedtime or a tantrum.
Hair metal of the 70’s, 80’s and even into the 90’s has been variously berated by miscellaneous detractors as Satanic, immoral, and counter-cultural. As I listen to some of those classics, though, I wonder if perhaps, in moments of pure and honest exasperation, those great rock ‘n’ roll poets were not simply describing their experience as parents. For example:
“No more tears” – Ozzy Osbourne
“Shout it out loud” – KISS
“Land of confusion” – Phil Collins (okay, not exactly hair metal, but still…)
“Mother’s Little Helper” – the Rolling Stones
“Helter Skelter” – the Beatles
“Shelter Me” – Cinderella
“We’re not gonna take it” – Twisted Sister
As much as I’d like to find ultimate commiseration in rock music, though, and very much to my dismay the very best descriptor of parenthood is summarized by "Sir Topham Hatt" of Thomas the Tank Engine (arrrrggghhhh!) videos and books fame. Those engines who flunk their tasks of shunting and hauling around the island of Sodor are berated by Hatt for causing “confusion and delay.” I can think of no better description of parenthood.
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As my kids get older parenthood for me becomes less about simply getting through an entire night without drama and more about explaining to my daughter why we should care about the kids in other countries who have no houses. It is a welcome transition.
My son still resists potty-training with every fiber of his being, and some days it feels as if all I do is handle poop. I have resigned myself to assuming that, if nothing else, peer pressure will toilet train him by the time he gets to high-school. And then, in the car, he’ll sing along with Bob Seger or Edgar Winter at the top of his voice and for a few moments at least, I’ll lose the capacity to be angry at him.
I’ll bathe and put both kids to bed in the evening. I’ll check in on them, see those little curly heads just above the blankets, breathing heavy and twitching in their sleep. And I’ll melt.
AND. THEN. The next day it will be nothing but angst and drama and whining as we try race the clock to organize the right snacks and get the right “puppy blankets” in hand and get everybody going pee-pee before getting into car seats and buckling up. We’ll finally back out of the driveway a cool 12 minutes past the start-time of whatever it is that we’re going to (probably 30 minute's drive away). Even as we're driving there will be a non-stop barrage of continued whining, arguing, demands for a snack or a video, and back-seat scuffles over a toy dump truck.
And I'll be right back to longing for the serenity of a war zone, the comfort of an impoverished third-world village, or the solitude of 7 hours at 35,000 feet. I’ll totally channel Sir Topham Hatt’s beautifully simple and concise description of parenthood.
Confusion and delay…