It occurs to me that many of you are not yet endowed with the gift of child, and so you really have little idea what that kind of life is like. I'm sure you've heard many otherwise reasonable adults speak on the bliss of parenthood, its glut of difficulties dismissed as they recite endless platitudes in a secret but organized effort to encourage single people to share their pain. But, rarely before I had my own son did I hear what life was actually going to be like with a baby on any sort of practical level, and certainly never with the angle of a gamer. Some might suggest that this is because the idea of gamers being given the opportunity to propagate is somewhat spurious, but I think it's a practical result of the desire in all parents to watch non-parents brimming with child-rearing hubris derived from books foolishly leap from the diving board straight into the shark tank. And, while even I enjoy watching the folly of new parents, I offer a glimpse into a day in the life.
Also, this is a blatant pretext for talking about my son.
The precise point at which my day begins is a hard beast to pin down. My nine-month old is experiencing what a doctor might call chronic sleeping problems, and what I might call not going the hell to sleep. Chronic in the sense that never in his life has he slept for a consecutive stretch of more than, say, three hours. Further, he rejects the entire concept of his bed, and responds to being put in it the way you might respond being put into a bathtub full of piranhas. So, most nights, we eventually get worn out and just put the guy in bed with us, because for all practical purposes it is the fastest method to achieve sleep for everyone. Apparently there's some debate as to whether parents should let a baby sleep in bed with them – because God forbid they feel safe! – but my feeling is that if you got a good night's sleep last night then you can just go choke on your objections.
The downside to this is that being with us through the night does not mean he sleeps longer, just that he wakes in a better mood. And often throughout the night The Exploring Finger (an apt name, I assure you) finds its way onto my eyelid or up my nostril where it seeks to discover more about its surrounding. I don't know if you've ever awakened to someone else's finger up your nose, but it is a curious moment.
Considering the regular intervals of consciousness that my wife and, to a much lesser extent, I enjoy throughout any given night, I think it's fair to say that my days neither truly begin nor end, but flow seamlessly into one another. Yet, it is really around six-thirty to seven in the morning that my day begins, and it begins with my wife getting out of an increasingly creaky bed as quietly as humanly possible. For if she can get out of the bed and into the shower without waking our son, then she can take her own leisurely time about it, and I can get some extra sleep before The Finger awakes. If, however, a spring squeaks at just the right pitch and tone, then angry eyes will snap open and see the betrayal of abandonment. Then will we hear the lamentations of our wronged boy!
After the shower my wife takes Daniel downstairs and I have a precious seventeen minutes of uninterrupted sleep to enjoy. These are prized moments of my day as the vacant bed becomes a vast fertile plain of drowsy delight. Seventeen minutes where a small knee does not suddenly insert itself into my increasingly soft abdomen, where tiny fingernails do not try to pry open my eyelids, where small vocal chords do not suddenly erupt into a violent wail that could be heard over an AC/DC concert. Two-thousand seven-hundred and twenty seconds of sleep before the day begins in earnest.
I arrive bleary-eyed downstairs to a boy with a full belly and the expression of a man settling down to a Packers/Lions game after Thanksgiving dinner. On the television, Clifford the Big Red Dog is prancing about startling people with his amazing size. I used to get up, sit down with some water, milk, coffee, or soda, relax on the couch and wake up to the morning news. Now I wake up to the Clifford theme song, a song so ponderous and wandering that I believe it may have been written on some toilet paper just before being recorded. It's like listening to a drunk man tell a story. Shortly thereafter my wife goes to work, and my son and I begin our day.
The morning tends to be fairly brief as nine o'clock usually sees Daniel's first nap. This should make sense considering his long night of being awake and poking stuff. My son does not approach drowsiness well, and denies its existence the way the KGB might have denied the existence of top secret operatives. I imagine that his crying is a baby's way of saying, "I'm not sleepy" with some notable expletives removed. This is despite his obvious inability to keep his eyes open through any kind of voluntary will. He falls asleep.
Now, I might put him in his crib at this point, but that's a bit like rubbing your body in bacon grease and playing with feral wolves, in that it is not an advisable course of action unless you like to hear screaming. So usually I just let him sleep wherever he fell, and see what I've got on TiVo. This would normally be the time where I could get some work done, that is if I had a child who didn't resent sleep on deep and powerful levels. I tell myself he doesn't like sleep because he's so interested in the world, or in short that he's too friggin' smart to sleep, and I will kill anyone who dispels that illusion. Instead this is the point in my day where I watch television and feel my brain go quietly into that good night. It really doesn't matter, he sleeps and there is peace.
After he wakes some hour and a half later, my son begins practicing the new skills he's learned, like pressing the buttons on the television, and messing with the wall sockets (safely childproofed, but still"…) while looking at me with an expression that says, "˜I know I'm not supposed to be doing this, but I can pretend not to speak your language, and you have to be nice to me! He also laughs at things. They aren't necessarily funny things, at least not in any way I recognize; they are things like remote controls, small pieces of fluid filled plastic, and the carpet. All hilarious.
Along with laughing, he's capable of saying Dada. I know this because everything but me is called Dada. In fact, if he's not laughing at a given thing, it's likely he's claiming it responsible for his parentage. But most of all, the thing my son may be best at is ignoring me, having mastered the art of pretending he doesn't hear phrases like "˜no', "˜don't touch that', and "˜ow, that's my eye'.
He's also developed a strong crawling skill which he uses to pursue the cat. I'm not sure what the hell our cat is thinking even coming into the same room with him anymore. It wasn't such a big deal a few months ago when he had no locomotive skills and could merely wiggle on the floor and shout at her. But now, as the cat sits obviously fixing my wife and me with resentful expressions, he crawls up behind her and tackles with the ferocity of a blind side blitz. I wouldn't necessarily approve her decision should she choose to let fly claws and fangs, but I'd at least understand it. No, she just looks briefly surprised and then resigned to what must seem a certain fate. I can't imagine that she realizes Daniel's infatuation with her, nor that he can only express that infatuation by pulling her hair out and drooling on it, but she doesn't seem to think he's hurting her on purpose, which, I must admit, would be my assumption if I were a cat and something fell upon me and began gleefully ripping out my fur.
Eventually he eats some solid food-mush, which he mostly absorbs through the skin around his lips. And, at some point he suddenly cries for no apparent reason, I think just to keep me guessing. We play, and by play I mean I hand him toys and he puts them in his mouth. At some point, I might try to sit down and write something, which is openly offensive to him, obviously a snub of some kind. He rebuffs me by either shouting, or finding inappropriate places to practice reaching for and grabbing things. I can imagine him in these moments like Stewie from Family Guy: "I say, are you molesting that ridiculous contraption again! You half-witted buffoon, am I to be left wallowing in my own filth while you regurgitate banal prose in some misguided delusion of grandeur. I will enjoy killing you."
At some point we both feel far too cooped up in the house, and we explore the world in very tiny segments. Sometimes we wander the park, sometimes we wander the mall, and sometimes we just drive so that he can laugh at passing telephone poles. In his stroller, which he seems to enjoy the way men enjoy motorcycles, the world is both very near and yet completely separate. He is fascinated by the very fact of other people, though children befuddle him somewhat. When we pass other strollers I find that the babies usually consider each other with the sense of wariness you'd expect from two ships passing one another in treacherous waters. Again, Stewie emerges sensing now a worthy foe which he will vanquish. Or, he cries. It's hard to predict.
And so, around eleven in the morning I suddenly realize it's not eleven in the morning at all, but five thirty in the evening. There's something temporally disorienting about managing a bundle of increasingly willful energy, and the day races by like a stock car at a time trial. I've gotten nothing appreciable done, except manage to not let my son kill or maim himself in horrible ways. Don't misunderstand me, this is a Herculean task, but the wake from the tumult could probably use some tidying.
My wife arrives home, and though IÃ‚'m a bit exhausted it's important for me to remember that my day was probably better than hers. At no point does anyone want to come home from work and here, "Man, this morning was rough; we only got a forty-five minute nap." I'd beat that person with sticks.
Daniel usually becomes adorable and saintly for his returning mother, belying the furious motion and trouble of which I know he's capable. The rest of the evening is a slow denouement on the day, a steadily quieter and quieter event. Cacophony gives way to din, and din gives way to a tense calm. It's a big trick, as my son suspects, as we hint that the waning light means sleep should be considered as an option. At some point he realizes that we're going to try and make him sleep again soon, and he reacts with a stunning burst of energy. Consider him as you would a massive star nearing collapse, having exhausted its fuel it begins to wane, but then heavier elements reach nuclear fission and it lets out a giant gasp in its throes. The end for our star is as inevitable as sleep for our son, but that doesn't stop either from emitting waves of energy that might literally engulf the entire Earth. But, eventually, as if my mistake, my son finally drifts to a light sleep. Not deep enough to actually be put in a bed, mind you, he drowses with us for an hour or so until he is literally snoring. We try to put him in his crib, and it's even odds whether he stays.
I find some time to play games, to write some articles, and occasionally to bathe, where I can. It's really not that big a deal to me – well, except the bathing part, and that's a big deal to everybody with whom I come in contact - because for all my words the days are worthwhile and filled with the fascinating process of watching a mind wake up. Even after he's fallen asleep and I have some time to myself, I find I miss his presence, his stuttered awkward crawling, his nearly constant babbling, the pull of his tiny hands on my jeans as he struggles to discover this bizarre process known as standing.
I'm just saying, don't kid yourself. It ain't easy.