Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The 5 Dumbest Things I Did in My First Two Years as a Father


My little girl turns two next week. I write that sentence, and yet it still feels unreal - from both directions. I can't believe two years have disappeared and, at the same time, I feel like she's been a part of our lives for much, much longer than that.  I have my theories on how this paradox occurs. One is, that while a baby is crying, time slows to a crawl (pun intended) and a minute is an hour. If that theory proves to be true, I aged about two years just during bedtime last night.

Anyway, my wife suggested that I write a blog looking back at the last two years with our daughter. Unfortunately, such a blog would be the length of a novel. So instead, I'm going to dig into the bag of lazy blogger tricks and make a list.

1. I Worried for the Entire 9 Months Before She Got Here.


I slept less before the baby came than I did when she got here. Seriously. Miscarriage, Down's Syndrome, Mental Retardation, Cleft Palate, Still Born, Maternal Death, Blood Sucking Spider Baby (that one was actually a nightmare from when I did fall asleep). I worked myself up about every possibility (and impossibility). I wouldn't just worry about those things. I obsessed about them. I'd imagine how I'd react if they happened. I had conversations in my head. I bathed in my worry. It was horrible. It was a giant waste of time.

What I've learned:

It wasn't a giant waste of time because those aren't serious things. It wasn't even a giant waste of time because those things are statistically unlikely to happen. (Don't worry. I Googled the numbers in the midst of my madness. They didn't help). It was a waste of time because my worrying had zero effect on the outcome, nor did it prepare me for something to happen if it did. If our daughter had arrived with a birth defect, illness, malady, arachnid like features I would have loved her. And we would have figured out the next steps. And we would have loved her. And our lives would have been made better by her existence. I know this with every inch of everything I am. It comforts me. And now, with our son less than three months from getting here, I sleep well.

2. I Compared Our Daughter to Other Kids.


Our close friends' little boy, born about a week after our girl, walked first. They posted a video of it on Facebook and I went a little crazy inside. Why isn't our child walking? Are we doing something wrong? Are they doing something we're not? Did they post that video just to spite me! Did they work extra hard to teach their child to walk just to prove they're better parents? I'll show them! Child, put on those ridiculously small roller blades that I ordered from unrealparentalexpectations.com. We're making a movie!!!!

What I've learned:

One year olds cannot rollerblade. That, and I had unreasonably high expectations for my child's first two years of life. Aside from how to keep a kid alive, you know what I've learned in the last year? No? Neither do I. You know what my kid learned? She's learned more words of a language than I learned in all of high-school and college combined. She's learned colors, shapes, animal noises and names, puzzles, spatial relations, object permanence, how to get what she wants through a combination of looks, tears and sometimes poop AND how to walk. And I would look at her and think "WHY AREN'T YOUR TEETH GROWING FASTER!?"

Kids dictate their own development schedule, not my anxiety. And parents post videos of their kids because they're proud of them, not because they want to show off what their kid can do. (Who am I kidding, we all show off. I'm the worst offender I know.)

3. I Was Carrying My Daughter Into Her Room and Smacked Her Head Against the Door Frame.


When my wife asked why she was crying I shrugged and said that I had no idea.

What I've learned:

Spatial relations. I'm a little behind the curve. Sorry honey!

4. I Gave Advice to Other Parents


You're a first year parent? Tell me again how to get my toddler to go to bed.

I was like the freshman senator who thinks he can fix the entire system with moxy, and gumption, and sleeping on a cot in his office! Your kid isn't sleeping? Let me tell you how I get mine to sleep. Get this… I lay her in her bed. I think the secret is the "I lay her in her bed" part. You're welcome.

What I've learned:

Being a parent does not make you "every parent." I wish I could take back every piece of advice I gave friends with kids older than mine. I was a cocky novice with a superiority complex. Most of the things I thought I was doing right were merely gifts from the gods: easily given, easily taken away. That easy bedtime I bragged about causing with my made up bedtime skills? 2 hours now. That clean nursery we claimed anyone could do if they just put in the time and effort? It's simple when your baby is a paperweight. I'm sorry. Build me a time machine and I'll go back and slap myself. And kill Hitler.

5. I Didn't Say Thank You Enough


This is the big one. My mother in law watches our kid four days a week. My sister and her husband will babysit at a moment's notice. My father-in-law and his wonderful wife have been there on numerous occasions to lend a hand, as well as my best friend and my sister-in-law. My mom, my dad, cousins and grandparents are a phone call away all day, every day.

What I've learned:

We didn't do this alone. Our family and friends have formed a support structure for us that is so integral to our lives that it leaves me choking back tears as I write this. I am endlessly grateful for all of the love that is in our life, and I know how lucky (my religious friends would say blessed) we are to have it. So I promise to say thank you more. Starting now.

Thank you. All of you.

Dad


I want to know: What are your things that you would have done differently? Leave comments! Comments make me very happy!

44 comments:

  1. Sitting at the airport in tears now.....thanks! ~ georgia

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  2. I like the part that you'd go back and smack yourself; and kill Hitler! Awesome, John.

    And, it's wonderful that you've learned all of these things. Some people never learn them. I have to admit that there was a tiny bit of jealousy over your support system that you have with your family. We have never had that luxury. Our families are all out of state. But, we survived and the kids (and parents) didn't die.

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  3. There are two kinds of parents - folks who've accidentally bonked their kid's head into a doorway, and liars.

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    1. HAHAHAHA! SO TRUE!

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    2. Exactly! I did it on more than one occasion, but one time I accidentally threw her into it...while flying to the floor myself....it was a looooong night....

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    3. Exactly! I did it on more than one occasion, but one time I accidentally threw her into it...while flying to the floor myself....it was a looooong night....

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    4. I tried to get one of the twins back to bed after a midnight feeding, tripped over the very large black dog keeping watch in the nursery and smashed myself into the crib, I think the loud thunk I made hitting the crib was more traumatic to G. than the rest of the ordeal

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    5. That part made me laugh out loud because we have all done it. My son fell off of a curb head-first once (long story) and the second thought I had after picking him up was "gee, that really did sound just like a melon hitting the ground" To this day I can still hear it and I'm still embarrassed that thought occurred to me.

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    6. What I would do differently.....
      1) I would work less and be with my kids more, I have lots of maternal guilt!
      2) I would give my kids less material things. I think each generation tries to give thier kids all the things they didnt have and it's now at the stage that we give them everything before they have a chance to know what it is like to really want (and wait for) something, and nothing is truly special to them.

      My kids are 17 & 18 and I was a single parent since before #2 was born. You do what you need to do tp get through but I wish I had given them more of my undivided attention.

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    7. Hahaha! I do this way more often than I like to admit. I guess I need to be more conscious! :)

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    8. I can honestly say I haven't bumped my little man's head into the doorway. Yet. He's only one,,,

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  4. Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.

    Excellent post.

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  5. For a while I thought babies weren't sentient, were stupid, didn't learn a bunch of stuff until later...
    Then my daughter came. And holy shit did she prove me wrong about all of that stuff! She's only 3 months old, babbling her face off, smiles at me every chance she gets (unless she's in one of those... moods), recognizes when it's diaper changin' time (stops crying, lifts her legs and everything, crazy stuff)...
    My boyfriend, who had never been around babies before in his life (except for a few moments) had preconceived notions about babies. He thought they were terrors and horrible little things that would drive you crazy and nothing else (and they do drive you crazy sometimes, but not all the time like he thought). Then he met my daughter, and he can't help but to smile at every little kid he sees at the store now. She changed his views on babies and on children in general.
    Parents can discuss all the horror stories they want (and oh god the horrors there are with parenting), but when you get down to it, get down to being around a baby, it all changes, and you realize how amazing it really is. It's scary. It's fun. It's happiness. It's love. You can't help but to love those little balls of cute.

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    1. "He thought they were terrors and horrible little things that would drive you crazy..."

      Just you wait.

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    2. I hate when people say this. Hate it. Please stop, it makes you seem condescending.

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    3. No more "condescending" than people who claim that everyone will start loving children after they get their own..

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  6. My Mother in Law watches my son two days a week while my wife works. I am sure to thank her every time I see her. I've begun thanking her on separate occasions where she has done nothing for us - like if she just comes over for dinner on a Sunday. I hope she realizes that I am still thanking her from watching my son 3 days earlier.

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  7. I've tried really hard not to compare my son to other kids, but it still happened a lot. But when I really realized how stupid it was, was when I had his little sister. The two could not be more different than the desert and the ocean. Physically they developed on similar timelines, but mentally they are two separate types of intelligent. My son (4) talked really early can memorize things really well (he knew his alphabet at a really young age, learned to read right after he turned 3, etc), but doesn't think abstractly (best example is that he doesn't understand the concept of if and why). My daugther (21 months) still can't talk well, but I can tell that she thinks a lot more abstractly. I can't really explain the exact reasons in a short comment so I'll spare you the details, but my point is that it's really hard to properly compare your kids because each kid is so vastly different (but I totally did it too. I'm just agreeing with you haha).

    Also, the advice for the other parents. I think this is something that EVERYONE has done, and EVERYONE has received. I always say "I used to be the PERFECT parent....and then I had kids". No one will ever be the parent to your kids. Just smile and nod. :D

    Loved this post! Someone posted this on reddit (maybe it was you? Guess that's a possibility) so I'm only posting as anonymous to fit in. But I'm going to follow your blog now :D

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    1. Thank you! I'm so glad you enjoyed it and are now following :)

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  8. I love this post!
    And condescending Wonka. ;)

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  9. You have learned more in teo years than I have in ten. Also, your daughter may be smarter than me. Cute post!

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  10. Is it terrible that I cracked up at the part where you smacked your kid's head on the door frame as you walked by? I've done that to BOTH of my kids now. Poor little ones.

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    1. Nope. That's what I was aiming for! (Laughter... not the doorframe)

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  11. Our daughter has just turned one and she's definitely on her own development schedule. She's teaching us how to be better parents (and better human beings) every day.

    Love your writing style John. Entertaining, but heartfelt, with a healthy dose of real insight. Keep it up :)

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    1. Thanks Nathan! I'm so glad you enjoyed it. If you promise to keep reading them, I promise to keep writing them :)

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  12. Louis CK has this bit in his routine where he says that if you haven't given the finger to the back of your kid's head at least a couple of times in the last year, you're not parenting right. The biggest learning experience I've had in my son's ten month existence is that raising a child is both the hardest and most rewarding thing you will ever do. This has changed my entire perspective on my own childhood and my mom, who raised me and my sister as a single parent, an experience I can barely imagine.

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    1. I love that bit. I love Louis CK. I wish I could write comedy like him.

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  13. In-laws who watch your kid 4 days per week? Family who will help at a moment's notice? I'm beyond jealous.

    My wife and I have no family here and are seriously considering moving because of it. Raising a toddler with zero backup is wearing us down.

    Go say thank you, a lot. And then do it again.

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  14. I hope you don't mind editing this post with updates every few months or so; there's no end to the stupid things we do as parents. No new parent knows what they are doing, that's what makes it so scary and so fun.

    Hilarious post. I'll be following your blog from now on; not sure why it took me so long!

    www.dadandburied.com

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  15. I would change nothing. Everything I have done right or wrong has taught me and Aido a lesson. And that's what life is about, learning. :)

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  16. Number 2: this is caused by "too much spare time to worry".

    My wife was terrible with our first. When the second arrived it slacked off (a lot!). With the third our checklist is roughly:

    * Breathing/heartbeat ok?
    * External injuries
    * Clean
    * Clothed and shod

    The third is a bit slow in speaking, but I'm more concerned about his current decisions to solve problems with violence.

    Great blog, BTW.

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  17. When we were kids my dad smacked my brothers head into the ceiling of a submarine. We laugh about it now.

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  18. When we were kids my dad smacked my brothers head into the ceiling of a submarine. We laugh about it now.

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  19. when i was an infant my father was bouncing me in the air and my head hit the ceiling. he says my mother gave him a "i will cut you" look. i love your blog!

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  20. I was an escape artist with a fledgeling talent for traffic control. I surreptitiously escaped my crib/room/house/front gate in that order while my mom was on the phone, and scampered out into traffic. I started dancing in a busy intersection, nekkid as a jaybird other than my diaper. The cars didn't honk because they were afraid they would scare me. Sometimes it does take a village.

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  21. My daughter and lovely partner and 17 month old baby have moved from Calgary to our home - they are looking for work and a house here for the simple reason they want family around. They finally left me alone with him and went out just the two of them. They came back and he had a huge bruise on his leg where he had fallen off the sleigh in the living room before I could catch him (sleigh- long story.) I was convinced they would never leave him with me again.

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  22. I believe every father has smacked their babies head on a door frame or two. My husband did it with our first born. And then promptly followed up by dropping the remote on her head. It's a wonder the child has developed normally.

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  23. Some mothers smack the head too... we just die with the secret intact! When my husband and I adopted a 10 month old... (ok, she was and is an angel - the wings were a give away) and she slept through the night, ate everything not nailed down.. including lox, octopus, beans, yogurt, etc. We thought we INVENTED parenting... lulled into a false sense of security, we headed out to adopt a small boy (5) cuz you know - if you are SUPER competent with a baby a small boy who speaks another language is a piece of cake.. I still can only remember brief moments of that year.. it all turned out well in the end! So well, we did it again with a 6 year old girl. OKay - so what did we learn? We learned that good parenting is luck.. LOL No, not really. We learned that some days DO feel like a year... but the years feel like nanoseconds.. we are (sadly) done adding to our little family.. but what we have learned in our three adventures.. parallels what you are talking about. We don't have the family resources... but our friends are absolutely indispensable especially as we travel the path of conspicuous families.. I love love love my children.. and they have taught me exactly what I never knew.. and how much I still have to learn.

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  24. Comments make you happy? Ok.. well I hope you're able to welcome mine, abstract (and rather irrelevant) though it may be...

    I just discovered your blog through the viral "To my hypothetical gay son" letter you wrote, and I am reading it for personal reasons. I am 34 years old, the damaged daughter of a violent and abusive father. After reading your loving "REAL DAD" words, I am reading further into your blog to learn about the world of a Real Dad. I am learning how a Real Dad does it, what he thinks and feels, how he learns, how he teaches and nurtures his children - basically how the most important job in the world is supposed to be done.

    I am using your blog to undo my own trauma. I'm crying, I'm laughing.... I'm healing.

    You never know who you can reach out and touch when writing a blog, or what effect your words may have for your readers. For me, right now, reading of your journey is nourishing and inspiring. I'm not reading it to compare, or to say 'look at this great guy getting it right, why was my dad so shit', I'm simply educating myself on fatherhood, it's traps and pitfalls, the flaws and failures all dads go through.... and accepting the hand fate dealt me. Your words are genuinely helping to reshape my opinion of ALL dads, one that has been so coloured by own personal experience, I have failed to have true respect for the multitudes of regular great guys like you who do their jobs so well, so tirelessly and often thanklessly.

    I hope you don't mind me sharing my story here.. as I say, you never know who you might touch. I hope also that this message encourages you to continue writing and sharing. I am neither a man nor a parent but still, I am grateful to find your blog, both timely and useful to me on my own journey.

    Thank you and best of luck with your wonderful little munchkins! :D

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  25. Giving other parent's advice....that is a good one. How stupid we all were as new parents. (See there I go generalizing again!) That's the part about having kids that you don't realize until a few years down the road. Just when you think you know it all, the game changes and you're back at square one. It's one of those humbling life lessons.

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  26. Just discovered you thru HuffPost. Love this post!
    Here are my thoughts on advice - angelinequick.blogspot.co.nz/2012/05/babies-101_20.html

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  27. ...And kill Hitler. LOL! You must be a Whovian! That being said, as the father of 14 & 12 yo daughters and a (almost) 9yo son, there innumerable things that I would go go back and change, not the least of which were some of your 5.

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  28. Found your blog from Matt Gephardt's facebook page. What a breath of fresh air! I like your style, your open and honest and say it like it happens. If I had a nickle from all the people that have given advice on child rearing matters they have never had any experience in I would be RICH! It is so much easier to hand out advice when your not the one going through the experience. All I can say is hold on, you just jump on the ride of a life time! Enjoy it, Cherish it. They will be teenagers before you know it......I am looking forward to reading many more of your posts!

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  29. Love it!! I was exactly the same way about my kid sleeping. I thought it was due to all the books I had been reading. Hell no!! I have one who sleeps like a log and another who is up at 430am every day.

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