Being a parent sucks.
No, not all the time. I’m too new to this parenting thing to make that kind of generalization, and I’ve heard from numerous veterans that the first few months are the hardest. I should have suspected as much when, at a week in, I told my dad, “I don’t want this newborn phase to go too quickly. I’m sure I’ll look back on this time and wish I could go back to it.”
To this he replied, “No, you won’t.”
No, being a parent sucks intensely for a few scattered moments. The rest of the time, it’s surreal, an awe-inspiring journey with more than enough amazing moments to offset the sucky ones.
I will, for instance, find myself irritably deciphering my daughter’s cries, my frustration mounting, the need to find something soft and feathery to punch nearing critical, when she closes her eyes and falls asleep and smiles. That little smile ― that one second ― erases the previous thirty minutes of suck.
Side note: I’ve read that the “sleep smile” is actually a reflex, perhaps an evolutionary mechanism that kept parents from wanting to toss their little ones into the nearest sabertooth tiger mouth. Well, it works, and I don’t care if it’s “fake” (I guess babies can’t smile on purpose until they are six weeks old).
The number of instances in which I’ve found myself frustrated to the point of throwing things (even if they’re those crinkly baby books ― they fly surprisingly well), punching the changing table (ow), and saying untoward things in front of my baby girl (which I won’t repeat) have exceeded my original expectations. I don’t know when babies start remembering words, but whenever the day comes when mine wanders into the living room in her Pampers and drops a few “F bombs,” I’ll be the first to stand up and take a facetious bow.
“It is up to us to figure out what baby wants; it is not up to baby to figure out how to tell us what she wants."”
I say “exceeded my original expectations” because I didn’t think raising a baby would be this hard. I’m already at a disadvantage because my disposition, when sleep deprived, is extremely grumpy and short-tempered. Throw in opportunities for getting shit on and covered in partially digested breastmilk, and add to that the challenge of learning an alien language and constantly forgetting to eat, and you have a powder keg of OMGWTF.
What I have to remember, and what I would encourage new parents to drill into their brains, is that it is up to us to figure out what baby wants; it is not up to baby to figure out how to tell us what she wants. Baby knows what she wants, and tells us. We’re the morons who don’t understand.
I saw an exchange the other day between a deaf woman communicating in ASL with a man who didn’t know sign language at all. She wanted a table for two, and eventually got it, but there were a few false starts and a moment of frustration in between. This reminded me of my new 24/7 ritual, in which my daughter gives me the same cues she did the previous thirty nights, and I try to figure out what in the ever-living heck she’s saying.
A baby is a miracle, but so too is a parent’s ability to raise one
My initial impetus for writing was to sound off on the ease with which I’ve become frustrated, and how normal this actually is. When I heard (pre-baby) other parents talk about how they had to set their child down and wander into the bedroom to treat their pillow as a speed bag, I wondered if that would be me.
Will I really ever be that impatient or upset? Will I ever need to set my kid down and walk away? What would make it that bad?
I’m glad I didn’t judge those parents or think myself special in some way, as though I were blessed with some superhuman level of calm patience. I’m glad, because it would have made me a hypocrite, and I don’t need that when I’m about to tear out my hair because my baby has been awake for three hours, and won’t sleep, and doesn’t show signs of sleeping, and is still eating, and doesn’t want the pacifier, and my bed is so close and what if I just left her in the crib and closed all the doors and drifted off to sleep and would my wife notice and wake up and be appalled?
I feel guilty when I lose my temper with my baby girl. What does she know, aside from hunger and abdominal discomfort and a few primitive emotions?
It’s me, really, that has the most to learn. It’s all of us parents. These babies have a lot to teach us. I can only imagine the lessons continue for life, and — damn it — I thought I was finished with school.
But you know what school didn’t have?
- That smile.
- That unflinching gaze.
- The coos and the noises.
- Those faces.
- The farts and the burps.
- The admiration.
- That awesome responsibility.
If frustration were enough to make us throw in the towel, we’d be extinct.
Bring it on, baby; I have a thousand generations of patience to draw upon, and a thousand more of love to give you.