Parenting is a Journey (that includes a lot of laps around the house at 3:00 am)
Perhaps the biggest misconception I had about being a Dad was related to the fact that life would continue to be “normal” (and by normal, I mean centered completely on my desires, wishes, and whims.).
The following words are loosely transcribed from an actual conversation my wife and I had prior to Madison being born. This conversation was held in the period of time we affectionately refer to as the “rested days.”
“We won’t,” we said smugly, “be like those other people with newborns. All saddled down, not willing to just pack up, head out and seize fully the adventure that is life.” We may have not used those exact words, but that was the intent of the conversation. We were essentially looking down our collective (and soon to be recognized for naïve) noses at all those other parents who were not willing to ‘seize fully the blah, blah, blah…”
As I said earlier, Wrong.
This may seem a bit oversimplified and overstated but the minute you have a child, life changes so dramatically, so irrevocably, and so eternally, that nothing (and by nothing I mean NOTHING!!!!!!) is the same.
The way you eat (quickly), the way you sleep (fitfully), the way you work (drearily) the way you walk around the house (in the dark, mostly) the way you shop (bountifully), and the way you live (joyfully) is different.
For the sake of discussion, let’s flash forward to the time years and years from now when I will join others at my age and in my condition as mall-walkers. I see myself as one of those guys who wears a “World’s Best Grandpa” hat while I scurry out of the house at 3:45 pm to beat the crowd for the early bird special at Red Lobster (also, just for discussion, shouldn’t it really be the “early broiled previously flash frozen and flown in from Iceland fish special” instead of the “early-bird?”). I imagine that I will walk laps around the mall to keep my cholesterol at a reasonable level in order to make sure that I will not die at age 54 and leave my wife to fend off the advances of the “two old scary old guys with lots of hair coming out of their ears” at the Bingo game.
The good news is, for all the other silly things that I may do when I am older, when my time comes to walk circles around the mall, I will be ready. That is because I will have perfected the circle walking skill when the girls were babies. Two out of the three young ladies who joined our family were not, as they say in all the “According to leading pediatrician’s” books, “night sleepers.” Our girls seemed to be comfortable with the phrase and lifestyle “night screamers.”
And so it turned out that the best way to help this night screaming phenomenon was to pick them up and walk around the house. There will be some who would argue that we caved in, picking up the girls to keep them from screaming. I suppose at some level those naysayers would be right in that we probably perpetuated the night screaming by our giving in. I prefer to think that we wanted to keep the neighbors from calling the police every night.
And so many evenings, after a brief warm up period of merely crying and wailing, they would work themselves up to a full-blown period of night screaming. Once they reached the boiling point, I would gather up the rankled young lady, hoist her on my shoulder, fuel up with a whiff of the recently bathed goodness, and head off for our circular nocturnal constitutional.
Every evening we headed out on a very predictable path. I am sure there was a track in the carpet from out journey’s every night. I would imagine that thousands of years from now, when archaeologists from the future dig down to what they will call post-Disco era, I am certain they will discover thousands of homes with beaten down carpet paths. After all the careful research and analysis of the carpet circles, which will be viewed much like crop circles or Stonehenge for archaeologists today, the scientists will do reports and dissertations about the strange rituals of the post-Disco ea where it appeared that people, for entertainment and amusement, would get their whole family together and walk around the house. Little will those misguided analyzers realize that the circle walking was not just for entertainment, it was a part of survival for post-Disco dads. Not unlike food or shelter or Pottery Barn.
For me the great fun in this nightly journey came when I figured out I could do time trials along my circuit. Just like those automobile survival races across Europe or the Sahara Desert where it is not speed, but consistency of pace that are keys, I would stay to the same course and try to match the same lap time on every circuit. Even today, my mind can drift back to those hazy nights and hear the announcer, “(Young) Lady and (questionable at best) gentleman – start your engines.”
A typical race happened much like this. We would take a couple of warm-up laps around the path, to get up to speed and make sure that all systems were in good condition. As we motored to toward the kitchen I would settle into race pace, and then as we passed the sink I’d make a quick glance at the microwave clock to get our time. 3:07 am was the mark; the imaginary green flag dropped and we were off.
We’d head out through the kitchen and then take a hard left into the hallway. Past the front bathroom, and them hurdle over the six boxes of newborn diapers.
If at this point you do not yet have a young child and you’re thinking “surely six boxes of newborn diapers would be way too many, he must be exaggerating this point. Hang on just a minute there. Everyone within the sound of my voice who has had a newborn, please stand up with me and say, “He’s telling the truth.”
We quickly move past the overflowing diaper pail (yikes, I forgot to take that out) and then take a hard left into Mommy and Daddy’s room. As we circle through the bedroom, I need to be careful so I don’t wake up Mommy because I know that she is so tired. But in my ever loving and fully supportive way I think that perhaps Mommy really misses her precious angel and wants to see her for a just moment. Or maybe I might just accidentally nudge the corner of the bed (with the force of a gentle category two hurricane) so that Mommy would stir and be reminded of just how much Daddy loves his little angel and wants to bond with her at 3:09 am. Now I personally wouldn’t pull this sort of shenanigan (more than 10 or 12 times,) but I’ve heard that there may be some dads who would. …Oh hey we can’t slow down now anyway as we might miss the spilt time at the upcoming guest bedroom checkpoint.
We know, from having taken this path the previous 27 nights that it should take exactly four minutes to make the entire loop so we do not have time to linger in Mommy and Daddy’s room (or accidentally nudge the bed again to make doubly sure that Mommy sees Daddy taking one for the team at 3:09 am). Now we dash across the hall into the guest bedroom and take a quick glance at my clock from junior high school. 3:10 am. Check, right on pace. Man am I good at this. (Moreover, man am I pathetic that I get so worked up by this.)
We motor back down the hallway and then down shift as we take the exit ramp back towards the starting line. We dart around the mound of ready-to-go dry cleaning (Double yikes, forgot to drop that off. Ah, I can just dust off that shirt I on wore on Tuesday.) Quickly through the dining room, loop back into the kitchen, and there in front of us, shining as brightly as the fifth grade report card that said Jeff was a high achiever, is that the luminescent green affirmation that I can walk around my house, with the sweetest smelling person in the world on my shoulder, in approximately four minutes.
3:11 am. I look again, 3:11 am. Wow I hit right in the middle, perfect timing. The euphoria of success takes over. Hey, I think I could do an infomercial for sleeping dads, or maybe set up a circle walk fantasy league.
“You know, I hear that Jablonski in Pittsburgh, with the triplets, has really been slipping the last few nights. He’s getting soft, trying to rush the clock and get back to bed. I may have to remove him from my active roster until he gets a little more committed.”
I look one more time before I set off again. 3:12. Ah, man, can’t a dad even get a moment to savor a victory.
I am reminded, in the midst of the walk, that in the course of first loop tonight, that my daughter is four minutes closer to the day when she will say, “Daddy, can you walk behind when we get into the mall.” And I remember to be thankful to God for every step along the way.