This thing that is happening to us– expecting a first child– is not special. As a single-family unit in a specific time and place (Portland, Oregon in 2016), this is a unique experience in our lives. But that’s true only for Kathleen and me. While each family gets one shot at successfully having a first child, this situation is infinitely relatable. Rounding the corner into a new year, first-time moms- and dads-to-be everywhere are wringing their hands, preparing their nurseries, fitting in those last trips to the movie theater. We tell ourselves that producing offspring is a unique part of life and the human experience, but this exact thing has happened billions upon billions of times. It may feel special to you or us, but in the grand scheme of things having your first child is not that special.
So Why Do We Freak Out About It?
Between you and me, I’m at the stage where this baby thing is still conceptual. Even with the ultrasound photo affixed to our fridge, I’m still blissfully spared the anxiety that seems to run through new parents. Too early for that, I suppose. Kathleen is juuuuuust beginning to show a bit, and her first trimester was a breeze for her compared to some of the pregnancy horror stories we’ve heard about. No morning sickness. No food aversions. No off-the-wall food cravings at two in the morning. The biggest physical impact to Kathleen thus far is she goes to bed a bit earlier and wakes up a bit later.
The due date is June 29th, so there is plenty of time for everything to sink in before driving to the hospital this summer to introduce the new member of the family to the world.
In the meantime, we have been subjected to a litany of advice– solicited and otherwise–about what is going to happen. Some of it is useful and appreciated, but much of it is of the worn-out cliche variety. Over the past four months, for instance, I’ve heard maybe a dozen variations on the phrase “Your life will never be the same.” Yes, thank you for the heads-up. It’s actually by design, you know. And not for nothing, but the past six years of my life has been a roller coaster of massive changes. 36-year-old me looks and talks and acts almost nothing like the 30-year-old version. My life was never the same after I moved to Portland to take a job with a large technology company. Or after I went on my first date with Kathleen. Or after we got married. Or after we bought a house together. And so on and so forth.
Everything Is Going to Change. Just Like It Always Does.
It’s not the sleep-challenged nights or the diapers that will push me off balance. I’m neither a stranger to insomnia nor am I particularly squeamish. The rage-filled toddler meltdowns at the grocery store? A stubborn refusal to eat veggies? These are simple, shared moments of parenting that don’t concern me. They are merely bridges to be crossed. I’m not saying I’m going to cherish these moments of frustration; I just know they are going to happen, and I’m not going to spend a lot of time worrying about them yet.
However, the big-picture issues get my mind whirring. How do you raise an adult in a society where prolonged adolescence is now the norm? How do you steer a person toward personal fulfillment that doesn’t use materialism as an embodiment of success? How do you encourage healthy relationships with people, money, food, and sex? How do you cope when you realize that you can’t “control” these things, that you have an ever-waning degree of influence? These are the thoughts that keep me up at night. Our forthcoming child (henceforth to be referred to as “Creature”) will be an experiment of one, what works for Creature might not work for you. Hell, what works for Creature may not work for Creature 2.0, if we decide on a second child. Even after all that effort and teaching and raising, the person that comes out on the other side of the two-decade process will not be a carbon copy of Kathleen or me. To assume Creature will act and talk like we expect; to dream and pursue what we expect; to interact and react to the world how we expect: these are the traps of parenthood we set for ourselves.
Still, we have to start somewhere. We need a blueprint for how we want our child to be. Happy and successful, yes of course, but what do we define as success? How do we help our child achieve that without getting in the way, or worse, saddling them with the baggage we carry?
We’ll do our best.