Last night was one of those moments. Those “A-ha!” moments, where it hit me – I mean, really hit me: “Oh my God. We have a baby.” Owen has been in our lives for just over a year now. We’ve been introduced many times. I know every inch of him innately – body parts (and bodily functions) I never thought I’d need to know so well about another person. Mystery is pretty much out the window at this point in our relationship seeing as to how in depth I know our son; but last night was the second time in my memory since giving birth to him that the reality hit home. “We’re parents!”
We’ve all been there – the moment you realize you’ve crossed over and are no longer the spectator from the sidelines who naively watches as your friends couple-up and become this weird phenomenon called moms and dads. My husband, Doug, and I were playing Backgammon (I acknowledge this makes us sound officially old), after putting our little one to bed, when I glanced at a toy animal of his, laying idly out of place by our coffee table. It was in that innocuous moment that I realized we were surrounded by the remnants of this alien creature that has been living with us for almost a year. This emotional, rambunctious, hilarious, mysterious being with whom we can’t communicate, rationalize, understand or control. I have often likened having a baby with inviting a wild animal into your home. It is by far the cutest, most entertaining thing to watch, while simultaneously mystifying and exhausting you. Not to mention, they will find places and objects within your home to get into that would never have crossed your mind prior.
Everyday, I watch Owen run around our house, going from room to room, babbling to himself like a madman while waving one hand around dramatically – as my in-laws would say – “like a crazy Italian.” Between spurts of bottled energy, he will stop in front of a random object, pick it up and carry it through the house, testing it’s limits and sounds by hitting it against another object, until he gets bored, drops it, and moves on to another item, repeating the strange developmental process. Mimicking certain moves of mine, giggling, and every so often connecting with me through a subtle look or by a glance of recognition (but disinterest) for the word “No” will remind me that he actually is a human (in progress). Then, he’s back in his own world, I am merely a curious bystander, and we are simply cohabitators trying to understand one other’s odd rituals. I cannot imagine what must be going through his little head. Without a doubt, we are the weird ones.
When I reminded Doug again that we were living with a foreign invader (albeit a deliciously adorable one), he emphasized the fact that getting through another day of parenting to a baby is, in fact, a damn miracle. For the baby, mostly. He pointed out that the distance from our living room to our bathroom was riddled with at least 10 objects that could be hazardous to Owen. Objects a new parent’s mind would never comprehend as a threat: a table corner, a heavy picture frame on a shelf he could suddenly be tall enough to reach, the kitchen chairs, a pen on the floor, and so on. It’s a wonder everyday we manage to keep him alive being that this great big world, to someone as small as him, is just a great big booby trap. The whole set up is kind of insane when you really think about it – that hospitals around the world just let people leave everyday with these undeveloped little humans in their arms.
Which is precisely why all parents should have a greater exercise in compassion and empathy; we do it involuntarily everyday living with our wild animals as we watch them destroy our home, break our valuables and help themselves unapologetically to our intimate possessions. So, let’s do something easy and show this level of grace to other parents out there in the world. None of us came with instructions, nor were we sent home from the hospital with a pamphlet stapled to our baby. Every parent we meet is simply doing the best they can after being thrown sleepless, ignorant and overwhelmed into this vortex of sippy cups, tantrums, bumped heads and chubby thighs.
So, when your husband doesn’t react as quickly as he should when your toddler is running around with a light bulb in his hand (yes, this really happened), cut him some slack, and remember, it wasn’t all that long ago that we were in a pre-parenting dimension where light bulbs were not considered a lethal weapon. Learning this child-rearing stuff takes a lifetime, so be patient with yourselves, and each other.