I knew that becoming a parent would be an intense, life-altering experience. How could it not be? What caught me off guard was how the cocktail of emotions associated with the event -- the combination of waiting, worrying, sleeplessness, joy and awe -- would leave me feeling like I'd been trampled by a herd of water buffalo.
Fortunately, it's a happy sort of fatigue. After an 18-hour labor, a C-section, and a subsequent four-day hospital stay, my wife and I are back home with our son, Seamus. He tipped the scales at 9 pounds, 4 ounces and was one of 22 babies to arrive Feb. 15 at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco. Yes folks, the economy is getting better, and births at CMPC are up 26 percent compared to last February, according to one of our nurses.
Anyway, so far I've learned how to change a diaper -- and been reminded that little boys can spontaneously urinate surprisingly long distances. I've learned the difference between hungry crying and crying to be held. And I've felt the thrill of seeing my kid smile at me for the first time, then realized immediately after that he was probably just wincing from gas pain.
Obviously, there are tons more lessons coming. But what I've learned about parenthood so far has amazed me. Following are five examples of things I've learned in the early days of a never-ending journey.
1. Dogs Are Fascinated (And Freaked Out) By Babies
Babies have all sorts of wonderful smells. Which is why our 7-year old Golden Retriever, Natasha, was transfixed by Seamus from the moment we brought him home. While she seemed to understand Seamus' status as the newest member of our pack, and will no doubt protect him as she does us, Natasha sniffed and licked him in a way that suggested he was, to her at least, potentially quite delicious.
Once Seamus starts eating from the table, Natasha will no doubt be parked under his high chair waiting for the inevitable cascade of food scraps. And she'll probably blimp up as a result. Guess we'll have to keep an eye on that.
In the weeks before Seamus arrived, we tried to prepare Natasha for the experience by playing sound clips of a baby crying at full volume. She was spooked by the sound, and skulked around meekly with her ears flattened. Now that Seamus is here, Natasha is getting to experience those cries firsthand, not to mention the sleeplessness they bring. Now when we make coffee in the morning, we make an extra cup and pour it in her water bowl.
2. Big Babies Create Wardrobe Challenges
While we were delighted to have such a big, healthy baby, his sheer size meant that many of the outfits we'd received as gifts from friends and family were too small, sometimes comically so. Which sucks, since much of the fun of opening those gifts came from picturing what Seamus would look like wearing them. Especially the tie-dye.
Given the voracious appetite Seamus has shown so far, I imagine he'll outgrow his current lineup of outfits pretty soon.
3. Sleep Deprivation = Hell On Earth
Everyone knows that new parents don't sleep much, but I mistakenly thought this wouldn't be a big deal for me, since I'm now firmly into middle age and find I don't sleep as much as I used to. Boy was I wrong. What I didn't realize is that having a baby in your bedroom is like living next to a firehouse. The cries are like alarms waking you with a shock. For several long seconds after, you find yourself standing in darkness, trying to rediscover basic motor functioning.
What's ironic about this, of course, is that in the midst of this intense fog, you're often carrying your baby to a changing table, and sometimes, you're doing so in near-total darkness. You're holding the most important thing in your life in your hands, but you're essentially still asleep. What could possibly go wrong?
The good news is somehow, humans are programmed to handle sleep deprivation and perform their parental duties. That doesn't mean my shins aren't black and blue and scraped up all to hell from all the things I have run into during these nighttime diaper changing missions. It also doesn't mean I don't feel like a flesh-eating zombie for much of the day. Wait, when do babies start sleeping through the night again?
4. Ma Vie En Diapers
Well, one thing I was nervous about was whether I'd be good at changing diapers. It's not exactly the sort of thing you can practice at home before the baby is born. I'm happy to report that I've already changed about 100 diapers and am pretty good at it. I've also become acquainted with "blowouts" and have begun experimenting with different methods of sealing a diaper to minimize collateral damage.
What I didn't realize is how often diapers need to be changed, and how many of them I will change over the course of my kid's pre-potty training life. I mean, wow.
We're planning to switch to cloth diapers at some point, but for now, we're using the traditional kind. And the boxes full of new diapers keep arriving every day. In fact, in the time it took to write this blog post, three more boxes of diapers showed up from Amazon.
As a side note, we found a diaper pail that is frankly quite attractively designed. I find myself admiring it sometimes. It's clearly going to be a big part of our lives for the next couple of years, so I am happy we got one that fits with our decor.
5. Flameless Candles Are Awesome
Confession: I've always thought flameless candles were stupid, the kind of thing slack-jawed TV addicts purchase while watching Home Shopping Network and emptying of bag after bag of potato chips into their insatiable pie-holes.
Well, turns out I was wrong. Flameless candles are pretty cool. At a friend's suggestion, I bought a 6-pack of votive-sized ones and brought them to the hospital the night my wife went into labor.
I'm not exaggerating when I say that the candles helped us a LOT by bathing the room in a soft glow and helping to calm her down. Their flickering is so life-like that each new shift of nurses, upon entering the room, would primly announce that candles weren't allowed. Then I'd pick one up and smugly inform them that these weren't real candles. I derived no small amount of enjoyment from doing this.
We're planning to put the candles in Seamus' room so their soft, relaxing flickering will calm him down when he's worked up, and hopefully allow mom and dad to sleep.