4 Things I Considered My 'Children' Before My Kid Was Born
Spend ten seconds on the internet every Mother or Father’s Day, and you’ll run into pictures of people’s pets with sarcastic captions like “can’t believe my dog didn’t make me breakfast in bed.” Or maybe you know some muscle-bound meathead who lovingly purrs “she’s my baby” while rubbing the hood of a 1974 Trans Am. People love referring to themselves as parents of something they’re not remotely biologically close to. It’s easy shorthand for “I care about this in a unique way. Only I am capable of loving this thing properly.” And it’s a totally fair impulse! But babies have a way of shifting perspectives and realigning priorities. So I now feel really differently toward, say ...
How I Thought Of It Before:
I started playing guitar when I was 13, which is around the time a lot of people start to wonder who they are and how they fit into the world. “Guitar player” became my identity for a while. I played in a bunch of bands, dressed like I was auditioning for a Tom DeLonge biopic, and viewed my guitar almost like an extra appendage. Remember Bruce Campbell attaching that chainsaw to his stump arm in Army of Darkness? I saw that and thought “ooh, convenient.” But like, about my guitar.
Bizarrely, I also went through a bunch of different guitars, endlessly searching for the “right” one. Versatility was important: My band was punk and ska, but I also played in my school’s jazz band. Being a high school kid whose sole source of income was mowing lawns and reffing children’s soccer games, I couldn’t exactly afford a rotating cadre of axes with different specialties. If I wanted a new guitar, I’d save up for like a year, tell my parents that all I wanted for Christmas was to go halfsies on a Fender, and hope the guy at the shop gave me good trade-in value on my old one.
Finally, I found my perfect acoustic: an Alvarez with the richest, warmest tone and a body that fits exactly where I want it too under my arm. Then I found my perfect electric: a Fender Jazzmaster with a cool look, endless tone shifts, and a neck that fit my frustratingly short fingers. On recommendation from my best friend and bandmate, I found my perfect bass: a Squire P-bass with a J pickup. They’ve all been with me for anywhere from three to 13 years. Sure, this triumvirate is not winning any “most interesting collection” awards, but they do just about goddamn anything I need them to. Most importantly, they just feel right when I play them. They’re my personal ideals for what they are. Music is part of how I express myself, part of how I squeeze out a living in our 21st-century gig economy hellscape, and these instruments are absolutely invaluable to me.
What It Is Now:
My guitars, if the last paragraph doesn’t make clear, are still pretty important to me. I really prefer if no one but me or a musician I trust touches them. But they’re not so important that they need to be shielded from my admittedly chaotic three-year-old. He and I play guitar together all the time, despite his chosen method of playing being “slapping the strings as hard as possible” and “strumming a pick through one string before dropping it.”
It’s always a situation where I’m on guard, making sure nothing gets broken or damaged, but I’d rather give him the experience of music than keep my precious little instruments locked in a closet until he’s too old to care. Him hearing music and sharing an enjoyable experience with me—that’s worth a couple extra dings and scratches on the ol’ axe.
How I Thought Of It Before:
I’m definitely guilty of using the “pet dad” trope, and that’s because my cat RULES. She’s friendly, she’s low-maintenance, she’s a weighted blanket that gets me through winters. Her origin story would be cut from a movie script for being too unbelievably saccharine. My wife and I were at the shelter, not really vibing with any of the cats available to adopt. Right before we were about to leave, disheartened shells of once-hopeful pet owners, this kitten woke up, walked up to my wife, and literally tapped her on the shoulder and started nuzzling her. We were more lovestruck than Brad Pitt in Meet Joe Black, and that dude was so lovestruck he got hit by two cars at once.
Moreover, adopting a cat felt like a big step towards “real” adulthood. My wife and I had been dating for roughly a year, and things were starting to move from “ain’t this a grand ol’ time” towards “golly gee wilkers maybe I want ya to be my steady girl forever.” Getting a cat—something we had to care for and be responsible for feeding—felt like a stepping stone towards bigger commitments. It felt like the beginning of building a life. Obviously, a pet doesn’t have to mean all that in and of itself, but we did get engaged a few months later. What do I know?
What It Is Now:
My wife had to carry, birth, and breastfeed our child. I have been literally kicked in the balls by baby feet every day for the last three years. But the household member who’s suffered the most from the arrival of the baby might be the cat. Poor girl just cannot get used to the kid, always running away and hiding whenever he notices her. We have our living room—the main place the toddler plays—blocked by a baby gate. Where’s the cat most of the day? Lounging unseen in any room that’s not that one. Then, as soon as the kid is in bed, she skulks out to sit on the couch with us like she’s a prisoner and this is her time in the yard.
Not to mention we pay less attention to her now that he’s around. The reason the “pet parent” thing gets some people riled up is having a kid really does make you realize—at least in my case—that your child and your pet are two vastly different relationships. I love my cat, but there’s not really a question of who I’m grabbing from a burning building, you know? What’s even more sad is that the amount of energy required to take care of a baby leaves little left over for the miniature tiger currently horking up a hairball as I type this sentence. I used to play hide-and-seek with her or dance around with string toys; now, after a day of focusing all of my energy on primary caregiving for a toddler, the cat is welcome to some nuzzling while I nod off on the couch.
My biggest hope is that in a year or two, the kid learns to be a little more gentle, the cat learns to be a little more chill, and they become the Scooby and Shaggy-esque best friends they’re destined to be. They already both love jumping into my arms, hiding just for fun, and eating faster than recommended. Where’s their Hanna-Barbera cartoon?
My Cast Iron Skillet
How I Thought Of It Before:
Cast iron cookware is sort of like the wheel, in that it was developed during prehistoric times and humanity hasn’t really figured out anything better since. It retains heat, it gives food a good sear, and it’s got that classic ringing scraping sound you associate with cooking cooking when you use a metal spatula on it. Cast iron rules. A quick Google tells me I am being A Type Of Guy by loving my cast iron skillet so much, but you know what? If you got a problem with it, VICE, the whole Cracked staff will see you in the parking lot, rumble-in-Anchorman-style! Right, guys?! No? Just me? Fiiiiiiinnnnne, I’ll stay at my desk.
Not only does food cooked on cast iron taste real good, but taking care of a cast iron skillet is a precise task. There are more intricate rules than a middle school dress code. So it became a point of pride for me. After all, if you treat it properly, you can do just about all of your cooking on it, and it will outlive your grandchildren. So I’m pretty particular when it comes to my skillet. Sometimes my parents or in-laws will do our dishes when they visit, and I try to make sure I clean the cast iron before they get in the kitchen, just because I’m that irritating to be around. It’s a thing. I guess I’m a Type Of Guy.
What It Is Now:
It’s still my primary cooking vessel. Thing’s a goddamn workhorse. I use it so much it doesn’t even leave my stove, just sits on the lower right burner, ready for action faster than the Minutemen. But having a kid—and thus a more regimented lifestyle—has made cooking a little more of a necessity and less of an excitement. I’m not blaming the toddler, I’m just saying kitchen stuff is another in an exhaustively long list of chores that absolutely cannot be put off.
Oddly, that makes me a little more proud of it. I’ve belatedly become a halfway disciplined person, and part of that process involved keeping the damn kitchen clean, especially when my kid started eating. Having my skillet sitting on my stove, pristinely cleaned and seasoned, waiting to sear the next batch of stir fry or whatever, is a reminder of how far I’ve come since my 20s (when my stove was mainly a vessel for empty pizza boxes because the trash can was full). I guess disciplined work really is rewarding, and that realization might be the truest sign I’ve become a capital-D Dad.
My Actual Child
How I Thought Of It Before:
Some people—and I’m going to try not to sound too wistful here—don’t want or have kids. Isn’t that wild? Just walking around, pockets full of free time and days packed with disposable income. The ability to go see Venom: Let There Be Carnage on opening night, check out that new Korean BBQ place down the street, maybe take a trip to a peaceful beach where kind hotel staff funnels mojitos directly into your gullet at high tide. It’s crazy, the freedom those people have. Even crazier: some people are so desperate to have kids they do it basically the first chance they get. Then, after having a kid, they have even more. Like they bought one stroller and decided they needed six more. Like they’re addicted to the idea of never having personal space or a moment to think. Pure, uncut insanity.
Me, I’m right in between those two camps. Sure, I definitely liked the idea of kids, but never felt any kind of rush to jump on Team Parent. That said, I always, always knew what kind of father I wanted to be: the super-very-much-hey-ease-up-a-bit involved kind. Being a writer, working from home wasn’t too crazy a proposition, but I went further than that. Visions of me teaching my kid sports, music, cooking, us reading together … just an entire goddamn montage that would be soft focus prologue for his John Wick-style origin story after my untimely demise at the hands of some nefarious evildoers.
Part of it’s my own dad, a man who worked his ass off pulling long hours but who made goddamn sure that when he was home, he was home. We’d play sports together, listen to music, talk about books, and eat meals at the table. He’s a man who reads all my articles on this site and never gets mad at the excessive cursing but ribs me when I end a sentence in a preposition, which is just part of the generation he’s from. He once told me part of his motivation to stay in shape was because of how much fun he had playing sports with me and my friends (another grammatical error that, just to make him mad, I’m throwing in). That little tossed-off remark when I was ten years old told me pretty much everything I needed to know about parenting.
What It Is Now:
Here’s the thing about putting all that work in as a parent: it’s HARD WORK. Kids are exhausting. They’re constantly trying to accidentally kill themselves by jumping off couches or choking on food because they decided chewing and sprinting was a good idea. They always want to go to playgrounds, some of the most simultaneously fun and anxiety-inducing places on the planet. You have to make sure they have regular doctor and dentist appointments, despite the fact that many American adults can’t even fathom having their own primary care doctor.
I’m also coming at parenting from a place of extreme privilege. My wife and I aren’t exactly Scrooge McDucking, but her job covers our bills and groceries, allowing me to stay home and raise our child while writing dick jokes online during the precious few hours that he’s asleep. I also had a two-parent home growing up, with parents who laid a solid foundation for how I think about the idea of family. I’m lucky. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t times when my toddler is twisting himself into knots, screaming his whole face off about the fact that there are no oranges in the house even though he just asked for apples at the store, that I don’t vaguely sympathize with the guys who get in their car and drive away until they finally meet the point where the ocean meets the sky. It’s not always easy, and it’s not always fun.
Don’t take my word for it. See all the data showing how much parents struggled balancing work/life during COVID, especially working moms. The work always falls on moms the hardest. But what my long-winded, digressive point really boils down to is this. No matter what ideals you have in your head about parenting, no matter the rose-tinted visions you have of your own childhood, take all that and multiply the amount of work and mental energy by a thousand. But also: It’s worth it. Unlike a guitar, your kid can’t be replaced with $800. Unlike a cat, your kid eventually says “I love you.” Unlike a cast iron skillet, your kid doesn’t do well on high heat. Wait, is the stove on? Hold up, I need to go check on my kid …
Chris Corlew has just put his kid to bed and is petting his cat while playing guitar and digesting a chicken-and-broccoli stir fry cooked in a cast iron skillet. For more insufferable life highlights, visit his Twitter.
Top image: pgbsimon/Pixabay