We Weren’t Ready Either

There is the light of day and the haze of interrupted sleep. These are two distinct worlds and insofar as we are able to, we keep them separate. Fights that happen in ‘the haze’ should never see the light of day. They are to be dutifully ignored, in perpetuity if possible. If an event were to occur in ‘the haze’ at a later point that closely resembled the initial argument in both substance and tone, then, and only then, can the altercation be referenced. Once past, even if the altercation has escalated, it should fall back into the category of things which must not be named. These are the rules and they are organic and they are good. These incidences are like dreams in that they should only rarely be shared outside of a therapists office and should be done so with great trepidation.

We had such an altercation last night. In complying with the rules I shall not speak to the details of the disagreement other than to say that in expressing my dissenting opinion I can see now that I presented as a lunatic. The vast majority of the overnight happenings are tended to by one parent so the other can sleep, but in this case the concern of the sleeper overwhelmed their exhaustion and a suggestion needed to be made. At the risk of disclosing too much, as I know a certain woman related to me by marriage who may wish to continue to observe the ‘gag order’ in regard to referencing said altercation, I’ll state that in this case I was the night tender and she was the concerned and restless parent. Which I say only so I can tell you that when she interrupted me to suggest that we wake our son and give him a nebulizer treatment in order to allow him to stop coughing and to rest easier I went ballistic. This was not in my plans. I had already fed the baby and taken the toddler to the potty. It was past 2AM and I had decided that I’d wait out the cough. With a beer. And a book. A nebulizer treatment does NOT fit into this equation. Yep. I’m a bit of a jackass. My frustration bordered on the maniacal. Which is to say that it was on the wrong side of said border and had a full head of steam heading to the heartland of lunacy.

A mere hour later my wife lay soundly asleep and had been so for upwards of 45 minutes. I still could not unclench my jaw. The ability to navigate these wide emotional swings and return to a normal enough place to fall asleep, even with the assistance of accrued exhaustion is unbelievable to me. I’ve grown to understand that this is an innate difference. For her part she can’t for the life of her understand why I don’t go right to sleep the second I’m allowed to. But the fact of the matter is I literally can’t. I’m using ‘literally’ literally. If I were to attempt to transition between emotions at the rate at which she can and does I’d be in a hospital bed, likely catatonic, before lunch. Women reading this may read an exaggeration to express emphasis in this statement. It’s absolutely true. I’d break. Seriously.

I’m a LUNATIC when it comes to control of the overnight environment when it’s ‘my turn’. Just irrational in the extreme. And the reality of this is that this isn’t going to change. Can’t really. Which brings me to my point. Perfect is inherently and inevitably imperfect.

When we were fretting about whether or not to have kids the conversations were focused on our shortcomings, both personally and collectively. The financial issues and the emotional issues. The idea of a change so profound seemed impossible to navigate while retaining that which made us work together. But the truth is that the change was simultaneously of a scale that was so large as to have been incomprehensible prior to it occurring and of a nature so profound that it brought with it capacities and endurance that were heretofore unknown to either of us and which allowed us to grow in a way that has made all of the prior conversation irrelevant.

In some way every butterfly parent that has been through the transformation knows something caterpillar couples couldn’t at the time. Prior to our having been transformed their assurances and warnings were meaningless, even if many of them turned out to be more true than we could ever have imagined. So now that I’m emerging fully transformed I would like to amend the standard language of the butterflies thusly…

Rather than the somewhat dismissive statement that butterflies repeat ad nauseum to caterpillars that goes ‘If you wait til your ready to have kids, you’ll never have kids’, I think I would have been more disposed to seeing some hopefulness in a message that goes like this…

Let me cut to the chase, you’re not perfect. I’m not, you’re not, no one is. So stop thinking that merely being human and imperfect is enough of a reason to not have kids if you want them. And if you’re fearing that you’re not ready, you’re ready. That level of concern will in fact put you a step ahead. And besides all your shortcomings, you’re amazingly intricate, complex and talented people who will find a capacity for love you never knew before and it’s beautiful and destructive all at once. And the things that drive you crazy about your partner now will do so even more later. But the variations between your abilities will make you cover all the bases you need to so the kids can rise up because of your exceptional ability and in spite of your inevitable flaws. And don’t worry, your kids will reveal their own flaws, and many of them will mirror yours and that’s okay, cause you know what? They’re human too and they’re NOT perfect, which is something you must keep in mind, as your heart will never believe it. Perfect people do not exist, they are lying to you, and sometimes to themselves, and they should be looked at with empathy as they are in for terrible difficulties. In fact if this unicorn of perfection exists in some cul-de-sac in some suburb know that they are the ones truly missing out on the vast array of life as they are not fully experiencing what it means to be alive. Don’t fret that you are falling short of something so bland as perfect, rather delight in your struggles and move forward knowing that the sooner you accept your human nature the sooner you can get to seeing the beauty in life. Struggle onward and seek to see clearly and withhold criticism as long as you can. The more you can accept of imperfections the richer your experience will be. Oh yeah, and don’t be dick to your wife when she asks you to do something you should do. Its not nice.

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Roar. Regret. Try not to repeat.

Toddlers are fighting an uphill battle with their baby selves. As babies they were in 100% need of love and attention at literally all hours of the day. We adults are not equipped, even in those fortunate situations in which there are two of them able to commit to this endeavor round the clock, to easily add this level of work to our lives. As a result nature has made it so we are compelled, through obsessive love and fear, to push through levels of exhaustion far exceeding our experience. An exhaustion that can become just achingly painful. This challenge is met by a force so epic, that has been refined through natural selection to be as powerful as concentrated love. They compel us to scrap all our plans and commit full bore to the job that will see us through to the light no matter how far away it may be with true and profound cuteness. Not just garden variety, either, but a specific blend made just for his parents that plays on every subconscious bias to ensure that we will protect him viciously from the wolves.

And we do. We do everything in our power to ensure this childs safety. At critical intervals where the weight of the task is more than one believes they can stand we are given smiles and tears and laughter and warmth in measured doses to refill our tanks, to power us on past the silly moments we thought we’d never pass. Before you know it that blip in their lives, the part they’ll never remember and the part you’ll never fully forget but will forever edit for perfection, baby world as I call it, is over. And the parent isn’t even aware that it has passed.

The parent still sees the beauty and joy this one can bring. They will see it forever, even when its just an aura, they will know. But for the toddler it’s an impossible thing to overcome. But make no mistake, overcome it they must. For they cannot remain helpless forever. It’s time to see what’s behind the couch and up the stairs and in the potty and on the street. And in order to get the chance to find these things they must create some space for themselves. Some area, even in parents eyesight, to taste independence. So they use natures repellent. Toddler behavior.

Toddlers are legendarily misunderstood this way. They are compelled, and should be. No, they MUST BE. Compelled to poke you and prod you. Pull you and push you. Anything they can do, for as long as necessary to piss you off. and with all the redundancy of love that fuels the baby world it is a high bar that they must clear. But they will. Maybe not when their just getting their legs or when they find their voice. But someday they will finally push you so far that there will be no choice. And like those moms in Target you used to judge so harshly, who you now wish to hug for hours, you will snap. If you’re lucky it’s in the home. But there’s no guarantee. It can, and does, happen anywhere and eventually, everywhere.

I can’t speak to the maternal experience, but as a dad, we’re practically and effectively screwed by the incongruent progress of society and human evolution. For milenia (COMPLETELY MADE UP) us men have been bred to lessen emotions of warmth, and strengthen emotions of rage. It’s really only in the last 500 years or so that that’s started to change. And really in my father’s lifetime when men routinely became involved in any aspect of their children’s emotional well being, other than providing the home and the food to allow for it. Crucial jobs, providing protection from the elements and assuring readily available sustenance. So crucial in fact that it was the essential function of men within the family. But then farming and food and prefabbed homes and suburbia all conspired with some friends to make these tasks far FAR less dangerous and time consuming.

So we men all of a sudden have been domesticated. But we are not yet like the dogs that were once wolves. I’m more dog than my forebears and my sons will be moreso then me, but we are not yet bred to the new societal norm. Nope. We are animals fueled by love, certainly, but also by anger and frustration and discomfort. We are diligent workers at being social, but we do not come natural to it. We have as much instinct still to roam the land looking for danger and food as we do to hug and hold and be held. But we have no outlet for this drive. Until Jr. starts to discover his inner beast.

Then, at least with my boys, we collide. Me and my fading but still evident pile of testosterone and him and his budding desire to get in a fight with me. I can be had. And he provokes brilliantly. And….. boom goes the dynamite. I explode and he recoils, recognizing that daddy is scary. It’s terrible when you see that they know that. Even worse when you know that this aggression by a stronger animal against a weaker one worked. It’s an awful feeling when you see that he to is ruled by the jungle, understands he is in mortal danger (he is not at all. I would never touch him in any way aggressively, but he doesn’t know that yet, and it’s exactly what I intended him to react to.

I go away because my aim was met, but I’m already sick to my stomach. I immediately regret what I’ve done. Yes, meatheads, the commonly scrawled phrase on gym shirts, in what I can only assume is a font called ‘spraycan’, of ‘NO REGRETS’ is absurd, harmful and very very bad. We should all feel regret. Not all the time by any means, but certainly with some frequency. At least as often, say, as you feel like going out for a steak. There is a name for people that feel no regret. The name is sociopath.

So I find myself back downstairs, sulking on the couch imagining a precious little 3 year old curled in bed, silent with fear. I check the monitor a couple minutes after I left and his head is still hidden away so you can’t see his face, flat on his fading Mickey Mouse sheets, shielded by the side of his pillow and his hand, praying that the scary monster, me, can’t see him if he can’t see me. I just want to die. I have won and it is killing me.

This only lasts this long because of my man-ness. This wouldn’t happen to Karen. Sure, she has yelled at her three year old a couple of times by now, like literally twice. It’s not that, it’s the really stupid blindness of masculinity. Or at least of mine, is that when I’m enraged like this, and it is just that, rage, the simplest and most obvious solutions are sometimes lost on me. I’m not being obstinate, I swear. It takes a few minutes, some self-loathing for motivation and eventually the thought of returning to his room, sitting and comforting my scared child and owning my mistaken rage fueled outburst and asking for his forgiveness smacks me in the face. It’s so stinking obvious. And I can see how women don’t believe that we don’t see it, but some of us, some of us with all good intentions, are literally, not figuratively, incapable of seeing that as an option. That does not mean we reject it as an option. Quite to the contrary the second it occurs to us, boom, it’s done. No. We actually don’t see it. Because in this area, the area our emotions fueling socially acceptable, though ethically dubious displays of power and frustration, we’re still evolving.

Unfortunately for my kids, both boys, they may in fact deal with these parts of my personality that the 37 years before they started arriving here didn’t sufficiently get beaten out of my DNA.

So it’s this beautiful, wonderful, motivating regret that puts me right back up in the bedroom, telling my kid, dammit if I’m not a jerk. I mean, I don’t say it like that as that’s such a confounding turn of phrase, so it’s more simple, something like, ‘Hey buddy. YIKES!’ and then I say very clearly ‘I’m sorry.’ Because I am. Because I need him to know that when he is big and powerful, and he very well could be some day, and already is in relation to his little brother in the next bed who wants in on this convo, it is important for him to remember that failure is an option, not a problem. It’s something you can be relieved of by saying you were a jerk when you recognize you were one, and saying sorry to the person you were a jerk to. And I say it until he’s smiling and laughing again. And then I lay into his ass. Cause,you know, it’s a jungle out there.

That’s not at all true. I humble myself as a good role model should. I ask him and his brother if they’d like to skip nap, because you know, I must pay penance, and then we all go downstairs, pop in Ratatouille and hang on the couch giggling and smiling.