Before you have a kid, your house is your home. You have it decorated the way you want, it’s exactly as clean as you care to keep it, your stuff is your own. Then babies come along and rock all that like a hurricane. It’s not just Lego pieces in your shoes or teddy bears stuffed in couch cushions. I’m talking really weird stuff, like, well … something that actually happened where I shit:

My Toilet Is Destroyed (Thanks To Sleep Training)

This one I recognize as a little specific to my situation. Suburbanites and country folk with less cramped living quarters are unlikely to have this happen. But I live in a three-bedroom condo, with a lot of the room delineations being more like suggestions. Sure, we got doors we can close, but you can hear from one end to the other pretty easily. 

This made things kinda dicey when we started sleep training our baby. Both bathrooms in the condo share a wall with the baby’s room, so we instituted a “no flushing except for poop” rule out of fear of waking him up. As anyone who’s ever peed in a remote gas station off a forgotten strip of highway knows, unflushed pee tends to linger around like a ghost made of Mountain Dew. 

Human urine in a toilet at the Denver Museum of Contemporary Art

David Shankbone

It eats that porcelain. Just rips right into it. 

As a result, one of our toilets has stains we haven’t managed to scrape away. We’ve tried all manner of cleaning products, pumice stones, and professional services, but it’s still got the stains. It’s not like it smells bad or doesn’t function, it’s just—unsightly. And I did not expect a bathroom my kid doesn’t even use to still get dirty because of him. I assume it’ll get fixed eventually, like we’ll find the right combinations of cleaning products or whatever. But in the meantime, I’m really amazed at this specifically weird confluence of cause-and-effect. 

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Baby-Proofing Is A Never-Ending Nightmare

In the beginning, there was immobility. Then there were the cute little first steps. Then there was the 8x8 playpen. Then one day, without warning or foreshadowing: sprintpocalypse. All of a sudden, my kid was running like Usain Bolt training for a marathon. And that 8x8 playpen? Forget it. He’d scream if he was in there. It was time to get serious about babyproofing the house. 

Chainsaw in action.

kallerna/Wiki Commons

Let's put that chainsaw behind lock and key. 

The Final Destination franchise is famous for thinking of inventive and interesting ways to maim and kill its characters, and without doing any research, I know the screenwriter was a parent. You cannot believe the amount of stuff you’ve forgotten about in your house that a baby will try to either eat or smash on their head. You like putting your coffee mug on your coffee table? Not anymore, you don’t. Got any plants? Better put them on shelves. Speaking of shelves, my kid has an itch where he can’t stand books on shelves, ripping them like The Illiterate Hulk, so we had to get coverings for the bookshelves. And don’t forget about locking away all the cleaning products in your kitchen or bathroom, which are just poisons with fun, brightly colored labels. 

And that’s just your house! God forbid you take a jaunt over to a childless friend’s house. That’s a day that begins with “look how big he’s gotten” and ends with “I’m sorry he threw your PS5 at your great aunt’s urn, I’ll Venmo you and we can hang out again when he’s 18.” 

Handcuffs rest on a table

Gustavo Castillo

Don't try handcuffs, they're useless. Baby hands slip right out. 

Grandparents’ places are no better: My parents’ house has a brick fireplace hearth that is just great for jumping off of, plus a million breakable trinkets they haven’t had to worry about a toddler touching for 20 years. One time at my in-laws’, my kid crawled into the kitchen to “help” his grandmother cook. Everything was fine and cute, 18-month-old and 70-year-old having a nice moment … until we hear “HE’S GOT A MACHETE” because the one cabinet he opened happened to have a (fortunately sheathed) knife in it. Nothing bad happened and it’s funny now, but I bring it up as an extreme illustration of what kids are great at: finding forgotten things in dusty hiding places and giving their parents heart attacks. 

Here’s the real kicker: All those hilariously terrifying possibilities that happen because other people’s houses aren’t baby-proofed? Turns out, your kid will grow taller, get stronger, and most chillingly, get smarter. That means whenever you start babyproofing, you’re not finished until … I actually don’t know when. The process does not stop. It was around 8-12 months when we started stuffing outlet blockers into the walls, and two and a half years later, my kid figured out he can push a basket full of blankets across a room and leap over his baby gate, making the baby gate … less than pointless? Speaking of baby gates, let’s talk about those a minute … 

Divide Your Place Into Zones Like Post-WWII Berlin

When your kid starts really running around, you have to cordon off your house, especially if there are areas that are un-baby-proof-able. That brick fireplace hearth I mentioned earlier? Genuinely no idea how I’d handle it if it were my place. We don’t have stairs, so going anywhere with stairs is always an adventure, and by “adventure,” I mean I have unending visions of bloody head trauma happening for hours, then we go home.

staircase

Josh Hemsley/Unsplash

"Your dining room is upstairs? Uh, we'll eat in the yard."

So my wife and I basically set our little condo up into zones. The living room is the main place for the kid to play, so we constructed a gate in the hall. That gate keeps him in the safest, most toy-filled spot. Our guestroom/my office has guitars and keyboards that he likes to play with, so going back there is a “sometimes'' treat (read: when I feel like it). Anything I really don’t want broken is barricaded behind a fort-like conjunction of my desk and a couch. He can play in his own room, which has a bunch of toys and books, but there’s a childproof lock on the doorknob, which frustrates him after a while. His room backs into the kitchen, which is another “sometimes” area, because no amount of babyproofing can really stop the access to food, pots and pans, cleaning chemicals, dishwasher buttons … toddlers are devious and figure things out. 

Your home becomes a little less coherent and more purposeful. And that’s just one step in the organizing process … 

Hope You Have Storage (And Know A Good Place To Donate Clothes And Toys)

Your kid requires a lot of stuff: clothes, diapers, a place to put the diapers, toys, and we’re not even done with the sentence yet but they’ve already outgrown their clothes. Now they’ve outgrown those toys too, and Grandma’s in town and wants to go shopping. This is how quickly your house can start to look like Hoarders. If you don’t have storage or a strong willingness to get rid of stuff, you come to dread birthdays/Christmas/any kind of gift-showering. 

money in envelope

torange.biz

Is it impolite to say, "Please, just give cash?"

A friend of mine is big into vinyl, and he likes to say “to be a good record collector is to learn to be a good Buddhist.” Spin a record enough times, it’s going to wear down. It’s not a permanent object. Well, the same is true for all those adorable onesies that you carefully picked out after painstakingly poring over Target’s baby aisles. My wife and I got super sentimental about a lot of baby clothes in the first six months. We had so many “gotta-save-this” clothing items. Then one day, we woke up with a dresser stuffed to the gills with clothes that didn’t even fit. Even the kid’s closet started overflowing with a combination of keepsakes and toys we planned on giving him later. When we finally got around to cleaning things out, we probably had three full garbage bags to take to the consignment shop. And that was after just one year of being parents to one kid!

Don’t get me wrong, we didn’t go total just-the-basics brutalism like some 1950s Soviet budget committee chair. We held on to truly memorable things, like the first outfit the baby came home from the hospital wearing. But the need to tidy up became really apparent, really fast. And speaking of tidying up … 

Babies Force You To Get Regular About Cleaning

Remember in the first Spider-Man, when Willem Goblin sees Peter Parker’s messy room and says, “Bit of a slob, isn’t he?” and Aunt May says, “All brilliant men are?” Well, 15-year-old me took that as gospel-level life advice. 

I’ve never kept my space any kind of clean. Hell, my college roommate washed dishes as a way to wake herself up in the morning, and I spent like five years post-grad wondering when the magical dishwashing fairy was going to flutter through my apartment again. Cleaning also, uh, doesn’t come naturally to my wife, because we are meant for each other. It’s not like we live in complete filth or anything, we’re just pretty unorganized. A kind of “oh shit I forgot we invited people over tonight, better spend the whole afternoon tidying up” lifestyle. 

Front door of the Pomerene House in Berlin, Ohio.

Chris Light

"Actually, are YOU cool with eating in the yard?"

So what happens when you combine a lackadaisical attitude towards cleanliness with a tiny, unthinking being whose main functions are “poop” and “throw things?” Chaos, obviously. But not explosive chaos. A creeping chaos. Death-by-a-thousand-cuts chaos. One day, you look up, and you don’t know how your house got this way, and you can’t envision a way out. You step on some Hot Wheels on your way into the kitchen where there’s a sink full of dishes only to see a basket of unfolded laundry only to see a basket of not-yet-done laundry only to see that the trash is past needing to be taken out. Your shoulders drop. You think “somebody should call somebody.” But that somebody is you, this is your mess. 

Here’s where a proper lifestyle influencer would be like, “Now do these five things every day and you’ll have a clean house forever!” Bummer for you, reader: I’m not a lifestyle influencer, I’m an idiot on a comedy website. The best I can offer is to say you have to figure out what works for you in terms of chores. Don’t be afraid of division of labor in a partnership, either. I do the dishes and almost all of the cooking; my wife does the laundry and vacuuming. 

Bathroom in the Beamish Museum

Immanuel Giel

No one cleans the bathroom. That's a lost cause. 

We tag-team putting away the kid’s toys and are gradually getting him to do it himself. Start doing the little things every day, and suddenly it’s not such a scramble to be presentable anytime Grandma decides to breeze into town. But know this fact about having a kid: Your house is never going to be clean. Not for longer than, say, the hours the kid is sleeping at night. It’s exhausting. It’s defeating. But it’s worth it, in an “imagine Sisyphus happy” kind of way. 

I Got Really Good At Meal Planning (But More Boring As A Cook)

Besides being terrible at cleaning, I’m also pretty terrible at planning. Very much a pack-the-morning-of-the-flight kind of guy, very much a guy who’s turning this article in on the exact day it is due. How is this relevant to cooking? Well, the smallest interruption in food prep is enough for me to say, “Screw it, we’re ordering tacos.” Forgot to thaw the chicken? Order tacos. Thought there was rice in the pantry but there’s not? Order tacos. Saw a YouTube video where a guy eats tacos? Guess we’re ordering tacos tonight.

tacos takeout

Doris Morgan/Unsplash

Literally ordering tacos now before writing the next paragraph. 

The thing about takeout is it does start to affect your wallet and your waistline after a while. Not to mention how my depression would start talking, like, “You love cooking, why can’t you just cook, you worthless jagoff?” For years, my wife and I would say to each other, “We need to start meal planning, we need to get better about meal planning,” but never got around to it.

Finally, sometime soon after my kid started eating solid foods, we realized we needed to make an effort to minimize the amount of “I’m too tired to think of anything” McDonald’s he got fed. So we started making a weekly menu. It’s a shared note on the Notes app, detailing six dinners we're going to eat during the week (one day reserved for takeout), plus a grocery list so we know what to get when we shop. And it’s been so goddamn helpful. I know what I can expect to cook any given night, I know to take things out the freezer the day before, it’s just such a useful organizational tool.

Tacos in a soft tortilla

Kurt Kaiser

Now we can eat homemade tacos!

The downside, though, is it also makes it easier to fall into patterns and eat the same thing over and over again. I used to love experimenting in the kitchen, trying my hand at new things and making special trips to the store for ingredients heretofore unused in la cocina de Corlew. But after spending all day keeping my toddler alive, I don’t often have the energy to follow along with a YouTube video assuring me that lamb vindaloo is super easy, actually. And I certainly don’t have the energy, when it comes time to make the grocery list each week, to anticipate the sudden craving for spring rolls that I’m going to have on Thursday. So I fall back on a rotating series of maybe 9-10 dishes. 

This means my life is more together at the expense of being spontaneous. But isn’t that parenting, distilled? A series of push-pull compromises, where you give up a little bit of yourself because your baby is more important, and then you teach your baby how to appreciate the world around them, usually by enjoying a delicious plate of spring rolls together? This article is about the side effects of having a child in your home, but maybe it’s more about learning to share your home with a new person. Or maybe it’s a warning about making sure to flush your toilets. 

Chris Corlew is currently doing the dishes, no matter what time you read this article. He has a story about werewolves and a Twitter.

Top image: maribu/Pixabay

 

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