Thursday, January 24, 2013

Like Skydiving, Parenthood Is A Lot To Contemplate


I’ve only been skydiving once. The part I remember most isn’t the initial shock of falling, the wrenching tug of the parachute opening or the wonderful reunion with terra firma. It’s when my dive instructor, strapped to my back in accordance with the rules for first-timers, held me in doorway for several long seconds before we jumped. This gave me a chance to look down 14,000 feet at the dazzling patterns and colors of the farmland below, feel the freezing cold air, get incredibly nervous, and almost throw up.

“It’s minus-20 Fahrenheit at this altitude,” my dive instructor shouted helpfully in my ear just before we jumped, in an apparent attempt to calm me down.

I’m bringing up skydiving because I have a very similar feeling right now. I’m two weeks away from the birth of my first child, and just as I did in the doorway of that plane that day, I’m contemplating something I can’t fully grasp, no matter how hard I try, until I experience it for myself. But instead of jumping out of a plane, I’m going to be assuming the biggest responsibility there is in life. And it's almost here.

At 43, I am arriving late to parenthood. Most of my friends had kids years ago, and more than a few are looking at me now and saying, “Good, now Kevin will get a taste of the chaos and sleeplessness that comes with having kids.” The truth is, I’m not worried about the sleep deprivation aspect of having kids. I’m already in that mid-life stage where I don't sleep a lot anyway. Plus, I’m cranky no matter how much -- or how little -- I sleep. Just ask my wife.

I will confess to being more than a little nervous about becoming a parent. In the map I’ve built in my head about how this will play out, there is a lot of uncharted territory. You might say I’ve just got a case of butterflies, but to me it feels more like the panicked flapping of pterodactyl wings.

Millions of questions are swirling in my head. Will I be a good father? What if I don’t bond with the baby right away? How does one practice changing diapers? What happens when the kid asks for the car keys? What if I have a girl, and as a teenager, she ends up having some derelict boyfriend that I will have to beat the crap out of?

Here's a scenario that really freaks me out: At my kid's college graduation, will I be so tottering and arthritic that other parents will think I’m someone’s grandfather?

OK, deep breaths. Husbands need to take them too. My wife and I have been to the classes, we’ve read the books, and we’ve listened to wisdom from friends and family who’ve been there before. We’ve set up the crib and the changing table, organized shower gifts based on what age the baby will be using them. We’re “ready,” if such a description could ever be used to accurately describe what we’re facing as first-time parents.

Apparently, the baby is ready too, as evidenced by the non-stop mixed martial arts session of punches and kicks taking place in my wife’s abdomen. In a sense, all three of us are up there in that plane, getting ready for our first tandem skydive. We’re in the doorway looking down, thinking about what’s coming, and feeling a level of excitement that is almost too much to process.

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