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This doesn’t necessarily happen when you find out you are going to have a baby, nor when the baby is born.
It happened to me today.
Today we got a crib. Until we saw this strange sleek birch piece of furniture assembled, somehow we didn’t realize we were really parents. Michelle said, “Now that I see that crib, it just hit me that we have a baby.” And I totally knew what she meant.
Here’s how you get a crib:
First, you go to Target and see a whole bunch of options that range from $100 to $400. You spend an hour wandering around Target, your soul getting numb on the weird cheerful ether of the place. A Target store is like stepping into an alternate world. Unlike Walmart, with its underlying white trash militia vibe, Target has a whiff of east coast elite about it — you are bathed in a fluorescent sense of manufactured optimism. It’s like one of those “almost” smiles that pretty girls are wont give you, the kind that’s so much worse than no smile at all. The sort of smile that flashes across a young model’s face when you try to say hello, a quick gesture that says, “Here’s what I would look like if I wanted to talk to you but don’t blink because that’s how long I can pretend that could ever be true.” That’s what it’s like to shop at Target.
You spend a good hour and a half in Target. Not because it takes you that long to realize all these Target cribs are both totally okay and also suck, but because you begin to wander the aisles. In the end, you don’t buy a crib at Target, but you do spend over a hundred dollars thinking you are saving money on enormous bags of cherry flavored licorice nibs and lady razors.
Then you think: Why should I spend $400 for a crappy crib at Target, when I can buy a used one that’s better quality for less money? You are clever.
You realize that other than weird sexual hook-ups with potential cannibals, a good deal on used furniture is precisely what Craigslist was made for.
So you search for cribs on Craigslist and suddenly you think, Michelle is right: you don’t want a crib from Ikea or Target — even though they cost less than a fancy haircut. Because chances are they were made in China. And the people who run the factories that make the wood for cribs sold at Target are men who don’t care if the wood is full of poisonous chemicals that will make your innocent baby demented.
(Later, 60 Minutes will do an expose on these factories, and the men who run them will lie to the cameras about these toxic chemicals. Later still, the Chinese Communist Party will purge these same lying factory managers in a ritual show trial of corrupt officials, but by then your baby will have gills.)
You spend a good hour and a half in Target. Not because it takes you that long to realize all these Target cribs are both totally okay and also suck, but because you begin to wander the aisles.
So Michelle was right. We should definitely buy a fancy Swedish crib called Oeuf, because anyone who makes wooden furniture in Sweden and names it after the French word for egg can’t be all that bad. This wood is guaranteed to be GMO-free and totally organic and now, suddenly, you’re having visions of Junior going to Exeter and Harvard and getting a job at Google, and you’re thinking, maybe the money you spent on this Swedish crib is worth it in terms of his brain development.
So you find a bunch of options and end up driving down to the west village and paying $700 for a store floor model. You buy what is actually a $1,100 crib and it’s organic, but it doesn’t fit in your car. So you pop the roof on your totally practical tiny convertible and drive home.
You think, “Damn. I am really the man. I bought my son a f***ing crib. And it’s totally made of gluten-free wood and looks like something Gwyneth Paltrow would own.”
So although it’s late, and you are weary since last night your son decided to scream nonstop for the 8 hours you usually call “sleep” time, you begin to assemble the crib.
After about a half hour, you realize it’s missing a piece. And since you live in wonderful Manhattan and not the suburbs, that means running a mile to the garage where you pay $400 a month to park your stupid fancy car. The missing piece was indeed in your trunk.
You assemble the crib and realize the Swedes who wrote the instruction manual forgot to say, “Don’t tighten those 4 bolts that require you to use a weird screwdriver at exactly at 56-degree angle — until you have installed the side panels.”
So you loosen the 56-degree angle bolts, install the side panels, which have 12 screws to tighten, and then realize the side panels are upside down. The manual did not mention this was possible.
So you loosen the 56-degree angle bolts, remove the 12 screws, turn the side panels right side up, tighten it all and then realize you also installed the side panels inside out.
You buy what is actually a $1,100 crib and it’s organic, but it doesn’t fit in your car. So you pop the roof on your totally practical tiny convertible and drive home.
So you remove the 4 bolts, 12 screws, flip the inside out side panels, and tighten the bolts and screws, when you notice that, although this is scientifically impossible, one of the side panels is rotated in the wrong way such that it cannot hold the mattress pegs.
So you fix that, but then the little wooden pegs are in the wrong hole and so you get a pair of pliers, thinking, this isn’t hard at all, only every single thing that could go wrong, plus one thing that could only happen in the realm of advanced theoretical math just happened, but OK. Let me just use this pair of pliers and pull out the wooden peg and adjust it.
Then, as you are screwing in the last of the 12 screws, you notice it won’t go in. You have put the wooden peg into the wrong hole and blocked the screw.
Unscrew 12 more screws and 2 weird bolts — by the way, each time you adjust the 56-degree angle bolt it means laying on your back under the crib, and getting that feeling car mechanics and plumbers must feel, which is, “I am too old to have a job that requires me to lay on my back on the floor and try to get a screwdriver into a slot at 56 degrees” — and voila! You are almost done.
So then you put the mattress in and you stand there, and look at the crib.
And it hits you:
It was all worth it. Because this beautiful, small, warm angel, this soft, funny, sweet, vulnerable, tender loving rabbit, with tiny little peach fuzz growing on his lower back and his toothless smile, and his way of drooling on every new outfit within three minutes, is going to have his first real bed. And you are his father.
And dammit, you not only bought it and drove through midtown Manhattan traffic with this stupid thing sticking out of your totally practical sports car, but you assembled it. And it only took you four hours.
And you only look and feel bald and fat. You aren’t really. You’re superman.
Nice job, dad.
Said no one ever.
Dimitri Ehrlich is a multi-platinum selling songwriter and the author of 2 books. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Rolling Stone, Spin, and Interview Magazine, where he served as music editor for many years.