Although my son is a mere 9 months old, I am writing about what we as new parents learn in the first year because then I get to pat myself on the back for posting this ahead of schedule, which I would have done anyway because I’m a mom and I can do whatever I want. I reserve the right to amend any and all lessons learned this time next year when we’re on the backside of toddlerhood, but for now, on the backside of infancy, this is what we know.
- Movies will never, ever, ever be a lighthearted way of passing a low-key Saturday night ever again.
We recently started watching the Jon Stewart-produced film Rosewater, which is about a husband and soon-to-be new dad who is also an Iranian news correspondent and because of this had to leave his pregnant wife, for some reason that’s still unclear to me, to go to his mother’s home, where he — his mother’s only son — was stolen away to some presumably ill fate. It’s possible this film includes a plot unrelated to this man’s role as a father and son, but if you are me, you only need to know the Cliff’s Notes version of this movie: “Only son, husband and father-to-be goes missing; pregnant wife and mom fret; you cry and are forced to go check to make sure the baby is still breathing.”
- Not that you will ever finish a movie again anyway.
I say we “started” to watch Rosewater because every movie we’ve started in the past year has been interrupted by either the baby crying, or more often, me crying. Or falling asleep. Or needing a drink refill. So we pause the movie, snuggle the baby, wrangle the baby back to bed, go into the kitchen, forget why we’re there, decide to pee, go to the bathroom, notice a gray hair, forget to pee, remember the drink refill, go back to the kitchen, forget why we’re there, leave the room without a drink, pass the living room on the way to the bedroom, fail to notice the “pause” ball pinging around the TV screen, go to the other bathroom, pee, wash, floss, brush, check to make sure the baby is breathing, go to bed, wake with a start trying to remember whether the husband is reunited with his pregnant wife in Rosewater, remember that you haven’t finished Rosewater, make note to self to remember to finish Rosewater, immediately forget note to self, say a silent prayer of thanks that your baby is not an Iranian news correspondent, check to make sure baby is still breathing. All while that lonely pause ball on the TV bounces itself into nothingness.
Since the birth of our son, we have logged:
- Half an hour of Rosewater
- Two seasons of House of Cards
- Five minutes of Short Term 12
- Ten minutes of True Detective Season 2
- One and a half episodes of Game of Thrones
- Every House Hunters episode that’s ever aired, at least twice each
In fact, the only film we stuck with till the bitter end was a movie my husband started watching on a business trip but was interrupted when the plane had to land. According to him, the story was so disturbing that he felt he needed to see it through so he could get closure. Which I guess meant I was supposed to watch it, be disturbed by it, and seek closure from it, too? Parents: Do not watch If I Stay. There’s no amount of closure worth watching this movie even if you’re well rested, your family is healthy and happy, and you have a full belly. Watching this as a sleep-deprived, probably hungry new mom is basically torture and you will need to be institutionalized. Do yourself a favor and stick with House Hunters.
- You will ugly cry at work.
I recently learned that the daughter of a colleague was unexpectedly hospitalized. That’s the sum total of details it took for me to break into the ugly cry to end all ugly cries on a videoconference call with no fewer than a dozen male colleagues. Oh, oops, I accidentally hung up the call? Silly me.
- Dog ownership will bring out your inner serial killer.
And by that I mean, you will want to kill your dog many times. All day long. Every damn day. On the one hand, our dog endears herself to us by being a very sweet protector of the babe. A pleasant companion for a tiny tot. A gentle old soul who is content to sit calmly while an infant matures his motor skills on her wagging tail. On the other hand, she is teetering on the edge of buying herself a one-way ticket to the pound if she barks at the mailman one more time while the baby is sleeping. The mailman comes every single day and twice on Sundays, Maggie. This is not new. Pull yourself together.
- Your insomnia of yesteryear will be a fond, distant memory.
Prior to making babies, my husband and I both struggled to sleep at night, whether because we drank too much coffee for no good reason or our brains were still wired from long days doing I can’t-remember-what. Oh, the good ole days. For those of you almost-parents who are over-privileged middle class millennials who just can’t quit Twitter at a decent hour, good news: Your sleeplessness is about to get a makeover. Now when you can’t sleep, it won’t be because that episode of Frontline is too riveting to unglue yourself; it will be because your new infant hates you and everything you stand for. To recap, here are your current requirements for sleep: complete silence, complete darkness, Xanax. Here are your future requirements for sleep: five minutes, a flat surface, sheer will. Actually, the surface doesn’t have to be flat. Or even horizontal. Any shaped surface will do.
- Years and years in the insomnia trenches will not make you any more sympathetic to the plight of your night owl offspring.
Good parents know when a baby cries he is communicating with you using the only means he has. Good parents also know when a baby resists sleep he is not doing it to spite you but because he literally doesn’t know how or why to sleep when you think he should since he has yet to learn the difference between night and day. Good parents also know when a baby does fall asleep, it’s a pretty bad idea to wake him up just so you can inhale his baby smell for the nine thousandth time that hour. But here in the real world, new parents are conflicted by the curious phenomenon that requires us to beg our children to please go the fuck to sleep, and then when they finally do, jedi-mind-trick them into waking up because you miss them and you just want to smell their dang heads. We are new at this.
- It will be physically impossible to speak to your child in any octave other than shrill.
That hideous sound the Surfs make is your new normal. Add to that the completely unintelligible, totally made-up language you will develop the moment your babe exits the womb — an affliction from which we all suffer regardless of the number of mortgages or advanced degrees in our names — and you’ve got yourself grounds for pleading insanity at your murder trial for offing your dog.
“Who has poopie-poos? Does baby-babe have the poopie-poos? Nappie times for the baby-boo!”
I can’t even. And if you’re not careful, your new vernacular WILL find its way into your adult life and you WILL be sorry you didn’t get enough sleep in your insomniac days to preserve the brain cells required to stop you from sing-songing “Mommy has to workie-woo” within earshot of your boss during your Tuesday morning all-hands conference call.
- Already-annoying tasks, such as visits to the DMV, will become absolutely unmanageable and in no way worth your time.
You may recall that in the hazy, sleepless, empty-headed days immediately following the birth of my son, I applied for a new driver’s license and on the paperwork, I spelled my first name wrong. I then went through several checks where I continued to affirm the incorrect spelling. Like, multiple times, at multiple windows, to multiple people. So I am now the proud owner of a driver’s license with a moniker on it that is not my legal birth name. In another life, I would grumpily make a new appointment, drive to the DMV, correct the mistake and the Feds would be none the wiser. In this life, you can just call me Juli from now on.
- You will start to think you know better than Mother Nature. (Spoiler alert: You absolutely do.)
I’ve been totally befuddled by countless new-parent oddities that run incongruent to humans’ biological impulse to procreate and protect our young from being eaten by wolves. Here is a brief list of things I would like to ask Mama Earth, because I have questions.
- Razor-sharp infant fingernails: WHY?
- Starting behind the eight ball: Why go into parenting bone-tired from pregnancy, only to reach heretofore unbeknownst to us levels of exhaustion, from which we will never bounce back to anything resembling our former selves?
- Female head-hair growth/loss: Why give us long, luxurious manes during pregnancy only to steal it away postpartum, one grabby infant handful at a time? That shit hurts, man.
- Breastfeeding: What are you trying to teach us by making this so difficult? That the world is a hard, cruel, unrelenting place? We already know this. We watched If I Stay.
- Peeing our pants when we laugh, cry, sneeze, breath oxygen: I understand the mechanics of how this works, I just think it’s mean.
- Mail carriers.
- The movie If I Stay.
- Everything will change. And thank goodness for that.
I really can’t remember what life was like before Moses. What sleep was like. What doing laundry only once a week or eating lunch with two hands was like. I can’t remember what Randy and I used to do with our evenings before there was tummy time and dinner time and playtime and bath time and story time and bedtime. I can’t remember if I ever really liked our dog. All I know is that life was different. That everything changed. Absolutely, unequivocally. Where I was once an energetic go-getter, I am now a singularly focused automaton, an exhausted, dark-eyed, squishy shell of the person I was in my well-rested heyday. I’m tired and I’m soft and I’m depleted. I’m absentminded. I’m creaky. I’m sticky. My body is on what feels like permanent loan to a two-dozen pound dictator who nosedives into my cleavage when he’s hungry or tired or scared. Who pounds my tired bones when he’s excited. Who gnaws on my fingers when he cuts a new tooth. Who giggles when I invent sounds with my face. Who nuzzles into the crook of my arm, smiling up at me in the morning light, his tear-streaked face the only reminder of another sleepless night. Whose best shot at survival is the accurate assumption that I would lay in front of a train before I would let any harm befall him.
Parenting is at once youth-stealing and life-giving, isolating and rewarding, personal and universal, terrifying and deeply satisfying. It’s a sometimes-unreasonable experience I am nevertheless grateful I get to try to unpack, a sentiment best illustrated by the immortal words of our Dixieland treasure Amy Ray, “I’ve never felt so glad to be so well spent, so beyond repair.”