Friday, August 12, 2011

Unconditional love, game-changers, and other clichés about having kids: They’re all true.

This blog is about Jack, I promise. But, to get started down the path, it’s probably useful to know a bit about where I was in my head when he entered my life. When Jack’s mom said she wanted to have a baby a few years ago, I was terrified. I was happy being a D.I.N.K. (double-income, no kids)—or at least thought I was happy. I never said I didn’t want kids, but they didn’t really fit into my one-dimensional plans. All I wanted to do was work and follow my single passion for gaining knowledge. Sure, I was delighted to be married and to share my life with my wife, but she’s career driven too (the same type of career, it turns out), and so I didn’t really have to change my lifestyle that much. But kids? Not being able to work 60 hour weeks, go hang out with friends over a beer and talk about work, or jet off to some cool location--related to work of course--on a whim. Now that’s terrifying!

I never really knew what to do with kids. Babies? Tiny lizard-like creatures who are so delicate you never now how to hold them. Toddlers? Whiny tantrum throwers who are cute only ~5% of the time. Several years ago, my wife and I once babysat for probably the sweetest 2 year-old boy ever. And, we had no idea what to do—luckily, he walked us through his bedtime, and we made it out safely. But, us as parents? That one-night babysitting gig was really our only experience with little kids over the past decade. Older kids? Well, now they’re getting more reasonable, and bit more interesting. At least you can show them how cool frogs are, or discuss big issues of the day like the latest iPhone games. But they’re not really good colleagues, are they? They certainly can’t discuss differential equations or philosophies of science in any meaningful way (believe me, I’ve tried). Why would I want one of those myself?

Plus, I always rationalized to myself that being a good environmentalist—perhaps we could call it a Sustainablitarian?—means recognizing that the number one environmental problem on the planet is that there are too many people. Sure, people can solve problems too, but seriously, disease, famine, war, climate change, poverty, the Tea Party…all unnatural disasters caused by human overpopulation.

One of my favorite movie scenes, and overall favorite movie premises, is from the movie Idiocracy. Unfortunately, despite a brilliant satirical premise, much the movie itself kinda sucked. But the opening scene was awesome! It started out showing two couples in contemporary times. One an intellectual couple who kept waiting and waiting to have kids. The other, a typical ‘reality show’ couple who popped out baby after baby after baby (think MTVs 16 and pregnant and Teen Mom). Thus, in the next generation, the genes of the more fecund (MTV) couple will be passed on to the next generation many more times than the genes of the less fecund (lets call them NPR) couple. And so on. Ever notice how many teenagers on 16 and pregnant have mothers who are in their 30s? Do the math. Anyway, any good Darwin-thumping intellectual will tell you where this will lead. Idiocracy took us to one such possibility through time travel to the future, showing us the outrageous trajectory we could be heading towards. I won’t give away the whole story, but suffice to say the president of the U.S. being a retired pro-wrestler might not be that far off.

My wife and I loved the premise of this movie, and certainly fancied ourselves much like the NPR couple. Career first, kids…maybe later. So, when she hit me with “I think it’s time to have a baby”, I freaked out. It wasn’t time yet. She was only in her mid 30s, plenty of time left, right. Later? But, I went along for it—I loved her, and I would do this for her. But I was terrified to lose what I thought was my perfect life (yes, seriously, I thought working 60 hours a week was pretty perfect…crazy, I know).

I had 9 months to psych myself up for it once the reality of the pregnancy was there. And, I really worked hard at it. Read about it, thought about it, helped get the nursery ready, took notes on who got us what at baby showers. Downloaded apps for my iPhone so we could read about his development. Read the book, 'What to expect when you're expecting', which is a great book, but not really geared to us men. But, I still wasn’t sure whether I was excited or just terrified. Really, a baby? What do you do with those? The ultrasounds told us he was there and healthy, but still very surreal.

I was still not sure what this would do to my life, and more importantly, how I was going to be able to keep up the pace of my career. Most people work around the house (nesting) when a baby is on the way. Not me, my main goal before the baby came was to get a bunch of work done. I worked harder than I had worked in years, terrified at the hit my career would take when this little helpless lizard-like creature entered our lives. Not that we needed to work as hard as we did (we had the luxury of very flexible careers), but that I couldn’t think of any other way to live; it’s all I knew.

I was so sick of all of the clichés everyone told me when they found out Jack was on the way. “You’ll experience depths of love that you never knew you had”; “It’s like falling in love with your wife all over again, with out all of the dating”; “Blah, blah…”. Sure, I knew I’d love Jack…as much as you can love a helpless lizard-like creature who cries and poops. But, seriously? That much love for this little blob?

And, then, the day came. Jack was taking his own sweet time, and getting very very large, and so our doctor scheduled an induction. Still unsure of what was really going to happen at the end of the day, we went to the hospital that morning, my wife got Pitocin to induce the labor and an epidural to ease the pain, and we waited for 12 hours for Jack to enter our lives….which changed forever.

….And now, I can’t imagine life any other way. -- New Green Baby section

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