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How 12 Koalas Taught Me To Talk About Life As a Parent

We haven't been parents that long, but already we've learned the heretofore secret way that parents sometimes just look at each other and nod, like old cowboys in the West.
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It's hard to explain what it's like to be a parent to people who don't have kids.

You'd think it'd be easy. I'm a dad. My son is a little tiny baby. Just talk about what's going on, right? Wrong. There's way too much going on. It's nuts.

You don't need to explain what it's like to fellow parents, because they already know what's up. They see my wife and me with our son and they remember the achy wrists and bloodshot eyes. We haven't been parents that long, but already we've learned the heretofore secret way that parents sometimes just look at each other and nod, like old cowboys in the West.

Looks that say, "We've seen some things. Things that would drive a grown man to weep on a pile of soiled onesies."

And yet, I find myself wanting to be helpful to people who don't have kids, to serve as a goodwill ambassador from our proud and industrious land. But despite my best efforts, I've yet to land upon anything sufficiently coherent and concise to say on what it's like to be a parent.

The easier explanations leave something to be desired. It's not exactly helpful to say that having a child "changes everything," because lots of things can change everything about your life, including moving to Spain or watching the movie Rudy for the first time. I once had a really good cinnamon roll on a trip, and man, that stayed with me for years.

Saying that "you won't understand until you have your own," doesn't work, either. Even though that may be true, it still can come off sounding high and mighty, as if having a baby is a mystical, unknowable experience and aren't you delighted that I should find time to come down from Parent Mountain to bestow upon you my knowledge.

By the way, Parent Mountain is the least fun ride at Disneyland, even worse than the "We Feel Really Bad That Our Magical Land of Childlike Joy Has Helped Spark a Public Health Crisis" log flume ride.

I've also heard of people comparing having a baby to having a dog, but a billion times harder. Which I'm just going to move on from, because if I even thought about leaving our son tied up to parking meter while my wife and I grabbed coffee -- even for a second -- an angry mob of thought police would be at my doorstep toot sweet.

They're probably already outside, pitchforks raring to get to the stabbing.

The closest I have come to a thoughtful, rational response -- and it's not even close -- is this: Having a baby is like having 12 koalas show up in your house.

Yes, koalas, our friend Phascolarctos cinereus, eater of eucalyptus and climber of trees. Imagine if you went into your living room one morning, and holy Toledo, there are 12 koalas just koalaing about on your furniture, climbing to and fro and looking just as confused as you are. And they're yours now. You are responsible for them. There's no going back.

Shocked, right? Overwhelmed? Not sure how you're going to handle what Mitch Hedberg once called "the cutest infestation ever?" So far so good. We're on the right track.

I've given this a lot of thought, and 12 is the right number. If it's fewer than that, those dog people will think they'll have this whole parenting thing licked. Any more and you're likely to get bogged down by the logistics of how much space you'll need and miss the whole point of the simile. So it's 12.

On the first day, you'd say, "Oh my gosh, what on earth, this is crazy that you 12 koalas are here," and call everyone you know. "Uncle Ted, Uncle Ted, you won't believe it. A swarm of koalas has entered my home. I know, right? A dozen of them. No, I don't know that swarm is the right word. No, they're marsupials, not bears. Yes, there is poop everywhere. OK, see you at Thanksgiving."

Like your average baby, koalas have tiny hands and are adorable, but they also come with a steep learning curve. Bit by bit, you start to figure things out, like what they need and how to give it to them. It doesn't necessarily get easier, but sooner or later you are no longer overwhelmed by the sheer existence of 12 koalas making a tree home in your cupboard.

But that's about as far as the comparison can go before it starts to fall apart.

It's not like our son arriving was a surprise; the doctors appointments and parenting classes (not to mention other obvious signs) tipped me off that a baby was on the way. Also, calling our son "12 koalas" entails that he is somehow foreign and unwelcome, like I did not want him to arrive and will be happy when he departs ("and take your eucalyptus with you, you damn dirty koalas!").

The exact opposite is true. I'm psyched he's here. So I search on.

Being a parent is really difficult to explain in part because things change so quickly, even moment to moment. Even though it's only been a few months, life with our son has been great and weird and exciting and stressful and rewarding and confusing and strange and fulfilling and I think you get the picture but I'll keep on going and fun and joyful and exhausting and empowering and surreal and touching and now my keyboard says I need to stop or it'll unplug itself.

Koalas are fun, but real life doesn't fit so neatly into pithy and quotable little speeches. So I'll say what I usually tell our friends without kids -- it's pretty great. I got pooped on yesterday. So there's that. But you should totally have kids. It's awesome.

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