5 Things No One Tells You About the First Year of Parenthood
So I've legally been a dad for about a year now, even if I have in some way been a father to all of you for much longer than that. But I haven't talked about it too much here, because a) big freaking deal, and b) I didn't know much at all about what was going on. Parenting was a dark and stinky fog I had to navigate through, and for a long time I had only a fraction of the information I normally need when I want to half-assedly write a column about a subject.
But after a year of diaper fighting, I now brim with parenting wisdom, and in the grand Cracked tradition of telling you things that no one else will tell you, I'm here to tell you things that no one else will tell you. Because although you'll hear many of the same cliches again and again when you become a parent -- "They grow up so fast," "They're just a little miracle," and "Are you going to do something about all that screaming?" -- there are a bunch more really important things that never seem to get mentioned. Things like ...
For a While You're Not Going to Like Your Kid Very Much
So imagine you have a life and it's good and enjoyable, and you have time for hobbies, and people respect and fear you for them. Now add, oh, let's say 80 or 90 hours a week of chores to that life. That's about what it takes to keep a baby alive, and make no mistake, you do love your kid, but they're still chores. If you've got a spouse or a Roomba with a bassinet on it you can share a bit of the load, but it's still a lot of work, and your quality of life will inevitably suffer.
OK, but that's just work, and people work hard all the time, I've heard. You learn to manage your time better, you sleep a little less, you drink in the shower, and so on. People have been keeping babies alive for thousands of years, so even an idiot like me should be able to manage. But the workload itself isn't the really frustrating part. The part that will really tear your curly hair out is how the person you're doing all this work for is incapable of appreciating it or conducting any type of communication other than ear-piercing screams. Imagine being in hour 20 of a typical 18-hour day; you're tired, hurt, and annoyed, while the person you're trying to help is screaming, "FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK YOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOU," directly into your ear. I don't care how much genetics say you're supposed to love the little monster, that isn't fun.
Incidentally, I'd like to apologize to every waitress whose ear I've screamed, "FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK YOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOU," directly into.
It's a serious issue, actually. Kids can spend a lot of their first two or three months crying inconsolably, and parents have totally lost their cool about it. My kid wasn't even that bad, and I had to throw him on the roof in frustration only a few times, but I found the experience intensely painful. It does get better, though, and after a few weeks they start smiling and laughing, and you can take them down from the roof, and everything's more or less smooth sailing from then on, at least until they become a Dreadful Teen and you have to get, like, a trebuchet or something to get them up there.
Laughter Is Infectious
Good news! That last entry is the only major downside to parenting I'm going to talk about here, which kind of runs counter to the popular trend of complaining about how awful your kids are.
"Justin threw the largest turd at the cat yesterday -- you wouldn't even believe it."
This troubled me an awful lot in the months leading up to the arrival of my kid. Other parents I knew or read on the Internet did nothing but bitch about their kids, while the upsides of being a parent, if mentioned at all, were always kind of vague and ephemeral.
"Oh yeah, I guess I love him too."
Love? That can be simulated with the right software.
"Or pills!" -minutes of laughter-
But there are other upsides to parenting that no one ever mentions. The most notable I've seen can probably best be summed up as: laughter is infectious. You've probably already experienced this yourself, like how comedies always seem to be funnier when you watch them in the theater, or how when you swap jokes with a bunch of good friends, even the dumbest things can set you all laughing. Well, the same principle works even when there aren't any actual jokes being told, when the only source of amusement is a napkin that a baby is delightedly pulling over his head.
But my son finds this hilarious and will laugh like a wolf-raised maniac every time he does it. And you know something? I laugh too. Not ironically or to humor him but out of genuine amusement and joy, in a way that I frankly don't laugh that much anymore. Watching this idiot chortle while playing with the dumbest little things makes my life measurably more amusing and enjoyable.
Dr. Seuss Is Awesome
Dr. Seuss was a goddamned genius. This isn't technically news, but people don't say it enough, and it caught me by surprise when I started opening up his books again. During the course of raising my child into the world-bestriding tyrant that he will one day be, I will read a lot of books to him. And because the things are like 50 words long, I will often be reading the same ones again and again.
But even with only 50-odd words to work with, there's a wide range in quality in children's books. There's a real art to writing this stuff; it's more than just rhymes and goofy pictures. The best books make clever use of cadence, prosody, and other patterns that are then followed or broken in amusing ways. A lot of this you don't notice until you have to read them to someone, at which point you realize that some books are physically pleasurable when read aloud. Far and away the best of them are written by Seuss, who had this shit down cold.
On top of that, his illustrations are superb, the creatures and architecture in his book interesting to look at in a way that Another Goddamned Picture of a Cow isn't.
The Poop Isn't That Bad
There's this strange custom new parents have where they relate poop stories about their kids, in kind of the same tone a normal person might use when bragging about something. I've always found this weird, because the two possible audiences they could have for these stories are either a) parents, who aren't really impressed because they have their own, worse poop stories, or b) non-parents, who wish you'd stop talking about poop so much.
I won't do that here, because I like to save my poop stories for interview situations and the like. And honestly? The poop isn't that bad. I mean it's still not great; becoming a parent doesn't turn you into, like, a fecalpheliac or anything. But for all the poop stories that people like to share about their awful, poopy kids, it's been a far smaller deal than I would have imagined. Changing a crappy diaper takes about two minutes, making it actually one of the less awful chores a parent can be saddled with. Dealing with a kid who doesn't want to sleep is exactly a billion times worse.
What Unconditional Love Actually Means
So I'll just assume you know what love is, whether it's with your wife, or husband, or robotic life partner. And that's real love, and it's good, and I won't knock it here at all. But that kind of love does wax and wane a bit, depending on how messy they are, or how much of an ass you are to their mother, or how often they need to be rebooted. Even the love you feel for your parents or siblings can feel a little wobbly. It will probably always be there, sure, but it does waver a bit, as you're no doubt aware coming out of this past holiday season.
Having a kid is different. That's love, full stop, completely regardless of what he does or doesn't do, whether he conquers the world or just a couple continents. Even at our lowest moments, when my son was screaming at me for trying to console him and I was hucking him on the roof in frustration, I was still quite completely in love with him. "Good luck up there, son!" I whispered into his ear during the wind up.
I don't know what causes it. The responsibility for ensuring he lives for another day, maybe, or the fact that he kind of looks and smells like me. But no pet, or Tamagotchi, or any of my dozens of video game spouses have ever aroused the same sensation within me, and when that little imbecile pulls a napkin over his head and starts cackling like a lunatic, it's a feeling that somehow flares even brighter.
Seriously, try it out sometime. Everyone go get pregnant right now.
Chris Bucholz is a Cracked columnist and has been barred by dozens of schools from speaking to teens about sexual health. His first novel, Severance, is incredible and available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Apex Books. Join him on Facebook or Twitter.
For more from Bucholz, check out 4 Reasons People Hate It When You Compliment Them and 5 Unimportant Things With Giant Armies of Crazy Advocates.
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