[By Nic Lindh on Sunday, 19 August 2007]
Andrea is in Kindergarten now, and is apparently enjoying the experience, so I thought as she’s entering school, it would be a good idea to write down the different ages of a child from a father’s perspective before amnesia takes it all away.
So, the story up to five years of age.
Pregnancy: As a dad-to-be, your job is to shut the hell up and support your wife. There is obviously no other task for you. As long as she’s not doing anything to hurt the fetus, you have nothing to say, and you shouldn’t. It is your fault. Deal.
The First Year: Holding your firstborn for the first time is one of the most powerful feelings you will ever experience. Nothing can prepare you for this. Joy, awe, and fear, all wrapped into one huge package. This is the moment when billions of years of sexual evolution creep up on you, whack you upside the head and say, “Don’t f**k this up.” It’s a big moment.
Then you bring your newborn home and realize that you have absolutely no idea what you are doing. None. Nada. Zilch. All first-time parents will have that moment when you come home from the hospital and put your sleeping bundle of joy on your bed and start hyperventilating as it hits you that you are totally out to sea without a compass or a chart.
It doesn’t matter how many parenting books you’ve read, or how many parents you’ve talked to … none of that has any bearing on what you’re doing right at that moment.
But then, somehow, you figure out what you have to do. Just listen to the little voice in your head and you’ll be okay. You will never go wrong if you listen to that voice.
And then, the first year is a relentless marathon of sleep deprivation, anxiety, and worry.
You will think back to your childless days and wonder how you never properly appreciated things like sleeping and eating in peace and quiet. So, if you found this while googling around as your wife or girlfriend has just informed you that you’re going to be a father, my most heartfelt advice to you is to enjoy every day as much as you can. Go to movies. Go to expensive restaurants. Play video games. Go see the game. Whatever makes you happy. Because if you’re going to be any kind of father you can say goodbye to that for several years once the baby is delivered. Oh, and also, sleep a lot. And wake up with a smile on your face because there are no diapers for you to change or bottles to boil. Just enjoy.
The first year is actually very hard to remember. This is how nature makes people have more than one child. Trust me, even if you went through Navy SEAL training, this will be harder, because it never stops, and it’s also much more important.
Some highlights my hormones haven’t managed to erase include:
Waking up with a start as soon as the baby monitor goes quiet. SIDS will always be at the back of your mind. I mean, seriously, babies can just stop breathing. Just stop. And die. Including yours. Really, the thing that has become the center of your universe can just stop breathing while she’s sleeping. Yeah, that will keep you from deep sleep, trust me.
According to scientists, a chimpanzee and human baby are the same, behaviorally, up to about eight months. This means your child will not be able to communicate in any kind of way apart from screaming. Is the diaper wet? Are you hungry? Are you tired? Or what? You’ll never know.
The first smile will melt your heart. So will the first time your child crawls. And then you will want to hog tie your child, because they get really, really fast. No more putting the kid down and folding some laundry. Oh, no.
The Second Year: This is the year when all you do is try to keep your offspring from killing herself. She’s mobile and will get into any kind of danger her environment will allow. Sitting down and relaxing is just a happy memory that seems like it happened to somebody else.
There are highlights, though: Watching your child walk for the first time is incredible. And when the first words come out and she can actually tell you what is bothering her is a relief that will seldom be matched.
The Third Year: They’re called the Terrible Twos. There’s a good reason for that. Most of your time will be spent hearing “No!” and “Me do it!”. No matter what kind of horrible roommates you may have had in the past, your floor will never be more gross with essentially every liquid you can name at some point finding its way to ground level. And unless you’ve lived a particularly damned life, you have never lived with a more negative and annoying human being. One who has zero compunction about waking you up at night.
The Fourth Year: This is what I like to call the “dwarves on acid stage.” Your child is coming into her own, is interacting with the world and making connections in her head. Many of those connections will be, from a grown-up perspective, completely insane and often hilarious.
But it’s good. She can eat by herself, she can tell you what’s bothering her, and above all, she’s developing her very own personality.
I myself consider this a turning point year—it’s when your child goes from a bundle of needs and screams to a little person you can have a meaningful interaction with.
The Fifth Year: At this point it’s all about the personality development. Every day brings new ideas and thoughts at an almost scary rate. There are plateaus, of course, but in general the uptake rate is incredible. Having that many new ideas around the kitchen table leads to a lot of really interesting conversations.