Early in your first year with a new baby the ground breaks and splinters under you. It rises and folds, forms mountains and valleys, then blows those apart too. It takes anything that previously constituted your foundation, reduces it to smoking rubble and rebuilds a new one around a shrieking monster who assumes despotic control of your life and demands your love anyway. At least, this is what I think happens, as no one actually remembers the first year of fatherhood. The best we can do is hope to commit some scraps to memory, snap some accidentally focused photos, fill out some bleary scribbles in a journal or something. As it’s been a while since my First Year, I went back to revisit mine, to see what, if anything I learned. It was well more than I remembered.
1. I stopped pretending I had a schedule.
A militantly organized sort by nature, I like to have my days guided/obsessively controlled by spreadsheets, to-do lists, and a bunch of other bullshit that got promptly chucked into the Diaper Genie burrito-stuffed waste bin. The first year is the very definition of living in the moment, rolling with endless changes, adapting to bottomless needs, and subjugating things I previously believed to be of importance. For instance, it was no longer important to be on time everywhere, or constantly working, or have a “clean house.” That last one took a while, but it happened.
2. I became forever patient with families on planes.
Since that first year, I have slept overnight on a terminal floor at JFK. I have been bumped, unbumped and bumped again. I have sat folded up in middle-row seats on hideously stuffed cross-country flights. And never once in 14 years have I found occasion to be irritated with screaming toddlers, annoyed by colicky babies, throwing a passive-aggressive fit in the security line behind a Disney-bound family with strollers. If you have in your life complained to your country club or Facebook group about flying with kids on a plane, f**k you twice. Their day is harder. And there isn’t a single child in any airport in the country who’s worse than adults.
3. I experienced the jarring sensation of being regularly overpowered by the legs of a four-day-old.
What is this about? What sort of monster mutant powers are bequeathed to human newborns in the womb? How come I couldn’t put a diaper on a kid who’s pooping black X-Files tar without him successfully blocking my progress with his tiny twig-legs? Did this happen to anyone else? I mean, I was being reasonably cautious due to his being 96 hours old, but I felt like this should have been within my capability. (Also, in the first year all your cultural references begin the unstoppable process of becoming hopelessly dated, which is why I went with X-Files right there.)
4. I spent 12 solid months pouring every last scrape of my heart and soul into a child who could not care less.
It’s exceedingly humbling, dedicating your breathing hours to a creature who essentially responds with “You suck, you’re not Mom and I’m about to scratch your face.”
5. I learned how truly fat human babies can get.
Shockingly fat! Impossibly fat! Which I guess makes sense, since all they do is eat and then lay there, but it’s still fairly shocking. By two months, my oldest was up to a season-high four neck folds. I had to move neck fat out of the way to wipe off the spit-up. Spent a decent amount of time looking online to see if Gap For Kids had a line for the husky newborn.
6. I found that the world is full of such child-oriented products as Radio Disney, Baby Einstein and Nickelodeon, and I didn’t actually have to use any of it.
Turns out that kids only know about things if their parents introduce them, so if you don’t want to spend five years listening to Disney-park music, you can actually not do that! You can play adult music, avoid kids TV, all of that. It’s a personal decision you can guide yourself. Incidentally, so are four-year-old soccer leagues, screen time limits and signing up for travel baseball, but we’ll save those for later.
7. Mostly, I slowed down.
This, on its face, seems aggressively wrong. Babies make chaos of everything, blow apart your sleep schedule and leave you unable to scrape out even the slightest hint of free time — as the legend goes, anyway. And I’m not going to say I found my true center or anything. But I did find that without babies I rushed, I ran, I panicked, I stressed, opting for speed at the expense of thoughtfulness. In that first year I sat alone in the dark, I laid on a couch listening to my son breathing, I went for long pointless walks that didn’t go anywhere, I hummed songs for 20 minutes, or 30 minutes, or however long it took him to drift off to sleep. There was more chaos, but there was more space, and there was more perspective. I don’t think I could have found it any other way.
8. I learned that minivans are awesome.
The storage space, are you kidding me? And the safety record and sensible price and decent mileage, I mean, you can’t beat them.