When my wife and I were planning on having a kid, we read mountains of books. Each one had advice on picking a stroller, managing temper tantrums, and lactation issues. But what I really wanted was the straight dope on what a kid does to your life. Since I couldn’t find it, I decided to make my own.
Having a kid is a love affair. When you first meet your mate, your heart blossoms. You think about them during the day, look forward to holding them, and swoon around in weightless joy. Early love is infatuation, awkwardness, and sleepless nights. With a kid, you go through the same stages: infatuation, confusion, and respect, with love constantly growing and evolving. In the same way that you wrote someone’s name on your school notebook in dreamy repetition (sometimes adorned with hearts or encrypted by initials) you will find yourself thinking about your baby when you are away from them. I have a screensaver at work with pictures of Baby Harbat, and I am refreshed and filled with love when I look at her face. At the end of the day, I get to pick her up at school, and I’m filled with the same loving anticipation as I was going to meet my wife when we were first dating.
Not that it’s all smooth. As you get to know your mate, there are fights, breakdowns, and general irritation. But hopefully you end up with a loving relationship that enriches both lives. Same goes with a kid. In the beginning you are stuck with a shrieking wrinkled thing that you don’t know anything about and if it’s your first child, you don’t know how to care for it. Imagine an arranged marriage with a screaming wriggly worm, a worm with incredible lung power. Those first few months are tough.
One half of having a kid is the love affair. The other half is pet ownership. This is the only way I can describe having a child. If you’ve had pets, and especially if you’ve brought them up from infancy, you get to know them and their personality traits like nobody else could. As you bond with them you form an organic rapport and love that can be stronger than any human relationship. When I hear people refer to their pets as “my baby”, I know this isn’t cutesy hyperbole. Bonding with another living creature is a magical and life-enriching experience. The Buddhists get this.
So how the hell do I think a baby is a pet? Well, it is like a pet. Except it’s the most awesome pet you can imagine. Even if you have a really smart pet, it will plateau pretty early on. But with a kid, you get to experience exponential development and growth. From age one to age two, your kid will walk, talk, mimic, learn new language, and begin to communicate with you like no pet ever can. If you think your border collie is smart, just wait until your kid forms word clusters, sings a song, recognizes letters and words, and intuits complex conceptual relationships. Example: Baby Harbat can distinguish the sound of a helicopter flying over our house versus an airplane. That’s not easy for some adults.
There you have it: having a kid is half love affair and half pet ownership. Oh, but I wish it was that easy. Here’s the dark side of having a kid, something that new parents try to downplay and older parents forget: goodbye freedom. Yep, you can kiss goodbye going to a movie, eating out, relaxing at a friend’s house during the day, sleeping in, or having breakable tchotchkies below four feet. Not that you can’t do these things, but it’ll drop in regularity by about 95%. Maybe my wife and I are a little more house-bound because our nearest family is 600 miles away, so we don’t get the luxury of a weekly date while BH is with the grandparents. But freedom and time really dwindle to almost nothing, and everything gets compressed into the few hours between kid’s bedtime and your bedtime. Yes, I was expecting this would happen. My wife and I weren’t big into clubbing and hitting the social scene every night, but we go out to dinner once every three months now, instead of once a week.
So how do you manage this arranged marriage with a person you’ve never met? You’ll be frustrated to tears, I can tell you. Forget the first six months, where you’re not getting enough sleep and are learning how to take care of a helpless baby—that’s easy stuff, relatively. Having a kid means being responsible forever. The moment my daughter was born, my needs dropped a peg. If you’re a parent and you get sick, T.S. Once you see the cost of baby food, daycare, diapers, etc., your [insert hobby here] purchase will get pushed off another month, then another year.
But. And this is the secret of the whole thing. Wait until your child sees you, breaks out into a smile and calls your name, runs into your arms, and gives you a tight hug. I’m willing to pay any price for that. Money, free time, energy, hobbies…who cares. When you get that love and grow your relationship with your kid, you’ll know why you do it.
That’s the straight dope.