Friday, December 4, 2009

Things We Lost in the Fire

Tomorrow you will be one month old, Amari. You are teaching me something new every day - about myself, about parenting, and about the world.

Parenting feels very Zen, with experience being more important than knowledge, and flexibility more useful than structure. No amount of reading or listening to others could have prepared me as well as the last thirty days of hands-on fathering. The following are some observations I've made along the way which, much like the family photo albums I would rescue first from a house fire, may not mean a thing to anyone else.

1. The Secret Formula: Sorry - there isn't one. When I asked one of the teachers from my counseling program how I could tell what qualified as an intervention in therapy, he said, "If it works, it's intervention. If it doesn't it's information." The same has been true for parenting, and while I've discovered some very useful interventions that work with Amari, I've also collected a boatload of information along the way. Who knew that the theme song to "Greatest American Hero" would be so comforting in the face of intestinal distress? The sad truth is that what is an intervention today may just be a piece of information tomorrow.

Something I've noticed about myself is that when something does work, I then have a tendency to sell it as fact. The truth is, I've read one whole and a few half books on parenting and I've been lucky - their techniques have worked like a charm, sparing Carrie and I of countless hours of screaming and crying - mostly by us. Had I read a book on trephining in early infancy, I'd probably be preaching about that, too. That's ancient medical talk for drilling holes in the skull for those of you who didn't do a junior high report on neolithic cures for epilepsy.

2. Single Parenting Rock Stars: I am completely in awe of those who do this by themselves. I know it's rarely a choice, and they deserve all the praise and admiration in the world. In our most difficult moments, Carrie and I find comfort in each other, in our ability to do this as a team. We've had several conversations where we said, "I don't know how the hell single parents do this." The baby carriers alone feel like a freakin' IQ test, and it takes a village just to assemble some of them. I know for a fact that any sanity I have left is thanks to our ability to take turns and give each other a break.

In a wonderful article she wrote for an on-line mamazine (, my friend Renee shared, "My first reaction when I see new moms is to take that baby gently from them so they can go lie down and take a nap. It's selfish because I crave a baby in my arms again, but it's also because I know how hard being a new mom can be. My greatest hope for any mother is that she has people to take care of her. We all deserve it." As a dad, that goes for us, too. If you have any friends who are new parents - especially single ones - take a moment to make them a meal, do their dishes, clean their house, do their taxes, or just let them breathe without thinking of someone else first.

3. Death and Birth: When my mom died three years ago I remember thinking, "Man, this is the most unique thing that happens to everyone." It was surreal. My mom was gone forever, and although the world had changed completely in my eyes, it just kept on spinning like it always had. People felt uncomfortable, they didn't really know what to say, so they offered apologies, condolences, and other social platitudes. I received cards and phone calls, and for a while I was the center of a nervous, uncomfortable attention. I'm not sure how else to describe it, but it passed, time passed, people forgot - but I was still left with the reality that my mom had died. Initially, not a day passed that I didn't miss her, but eventually those days did come, one at a time, then a few in a row, and eventually I began to heal, to live with the reality that this was my new life.

Having a child is another unique experience that happens to almost everyone. Don't get me wrong, it's way better - nobody has death showers with adorable gifts - but it's also surreal and comes with a feeling that the world has changed completely but nobody else has really notices. Not really. This time people feel more comfortable, the attention is more celebratory and the phone calls and cards are infinitely cuter. The world just keeps on spinning, only this time the Universe has left someone with us forever rather than taking someone away. Time is passing, and the reality settles in a little more each day. Initially, there were moments during the day that I would forget that I was a dad, then I'd look over at Amari, quickly remember, and be filled with a deep joy and fear. Now I rarely forget I'm a father, but I do notice moments where I have grumpy, childish thoughts like, "God dammit, I need a break. I just want some time to myself" as though I could wish this away for the length of a workout or a basketball game or a cup of coffee. These thoughts are honest and they pass quickly, which also feels like I'm healing and learning to live with this reality that is my new life.

I intended this to be a list of ten, but the reality I'm living with right now is that Amari needs a shower so we can go to a birthday party this evening. Any other observations I have have may actually be lost in the fire I call my short term memory.

1 comment:

  1. This blog is very good, Isaac. I love it. I never had children, and it's fun to learn about how it is for you. Much love and luck to you all.