I used to be smart. I used to be calm, cool, collected. I was in control…
…then I had kids.
In the last four years, I have questioned every belief I’ve had. I’ve even questioned my sanity. And I wouldn’t change a second of it.
I entered into this parenting thing with nothing short of arrogance. I was confident to a fault. Looking back, I’d like to go back in time and roll my eyes at myself. I had it all figured out. I knew exactly what I needed to do to take care of any problems that came my way. I was Johnny-on-the-Spot.
It all started so well. I quit smoking. We found out my wife was pregnant. And immediately went out and bought a stuffed animal and a bedtime book. I read that book to my wife’s tummy the entire time she was pregnant. (Well, all but three nights, but I digress.) I did all the right things. Then, my wife called out to me one morning.
“Honey…I think something’s wrong…”
She had ‘that’ tone in her voice. If you’ve been married long enough, you know the one. It took me all of one second to go from asleep to standing at attention in the restroom….where it looked like someone slaughtered a goat. There was so much blood. It took everything I had to hold it together while we got ready and hauled butt to the ER. She wasn’t far enough along to be admitted to the L&D unit, so we weren’t going to get baby-specific care. We were shuffled along to the regular ER. It really felt like “Ooooh…sorry, you’re baby’s not old enough for us to try to save. Please, go have your miscarriage downstairs please.”
I know that’s not what they were saying…NOW. But back then, I was losing my mind and just wanted them to do something to save our baby. There was so much about that day that tested my resolve as a parent. But when the ER doctor, who we later found out was the HEAD of the whole freakin’ show down there, looked down there and said, “Wow…that’s a lot of blood.” I almost melted into a puddle of screams on the floor. I wrote about it in depth here, so I won’t bore you with ALL the details. Suffice it to say, I was knocked down a peg that day.
Then we had the birth, which was a whirlwind of labor and emergency c-section and thirteen hours with no food…just pure adrenalin. Remember when I said I was reading stories to my boy from the day we found out my wife was pregnant? Yeah, that came in handy. I’ve never seen a L&D nurse stand in shock. Literally, her mouth was hanging open. The big moment had arrived, they pulled Little Man out and he was screaming mad. They waved me over and I walked up and looked that little dude in the eye and did the absolute last thing that would ever come across like I knew exactly what I was doing.
I said, “Hey, buddy. Glad to finally meet you. How you doing?”
He stopped crying and cocked his head at me. That was the last time he cried the entire night. The head nurse just stared at me for a long while before saying, “I’ve been doing this a long time and I’ve never seen that happen before. Ever.”
Yeah, I was walking around with the puffed up chest and my peacock feathers in full display. Don’t mess with me, folks. I’M A DAD.
Before leaving the hospital, we had to watch a movie about Shaken Baby Syndrome. I watched in horror as they paraded a whole group of deficient parents before our eyes. All of them had killed, or injured their babies so grievously as to require lifetime medical care…and all I could do was shake my head. Too bad they weren’t awesome like me.
Fast forward a few months. I’m tired. I’m beyond tired. I’m a level of tired I didn’t know existed. Night times were the worst times. Little Man was a night owl to begin with, but he would not sleep for more than an hour at a shot before the screaming would begin. Desperately, I clinged to the hopes that he would go back to sleep quickly, thus letting me get back to sleep quickly. And when he had other plans…desperation welled up in me. For an instant, I looked into the future and all I saw was hell. A long, sleepless, hell. And as he screamed and cried, I checked his diaper, I tried to feed him, I gave him gas medicine…I begged, I pleaded, then I found myself at wits end. And I almost shook the shit out of him. I was close. I looked at my hands in horror as I realized I had become one of those parents from the video.
I walked into the other room and cried it out while he screamed in his bedroom. One line kept repeating over and over in my head as I tried to regain composure.
“A baby shouldn’t have to suffer a lifelong injury just because they’re having a bad day.”
So, I grabbed little man, walked calmly into the kitchen and brewed a pot of coffee. I surrendered the hope of ever sleeping again and in the process, regained my sanity. It took a three month old to push me to a psychological breaking point that 38 years of my life never could. Sure, I won the battle, but I was fundamentally changed by it.
Then, several months later, Little Man fell down in the shower and hit his forehead on the marble tile. It gashed his eyebrow wide open. I went into “Super Dad” mode and got him calmed down as I stopped the bleeding. When everyone was dressed, we drove to the hospital. The entire drive was me running every option through my head. Do I take him to the ER or the Urgent Care Clinic? Who would stitch him up best? What if he had a concussion? Would an Urgent Care Clinic be able to find bleeding in his brain? What if we just got him stitched up and then there was something far more sinister going on? What if we take him to the ER and nothing else is wrong with him? Wouldn’t the ER be overkill? What if the ER is busy? Wouldn’t an Urgent Care Clinic be faster? This storm of self-doubt raged in my mind while my wife and I sang “Itsy Bitsy Spider” about a hundred times trying to keep his spirits up.
Once at the ER, I had to hold my son down while they sewed his head shut. The local anesthetic didn’t take and he felt the last two stitches in their entirety. All I wanted to do was punch doctors in their throats and grab my boy and hold him close while grunting in a corner like some primeval super dad. He looked at me wondering why I wouldn’t stop them from hurting him and why I wouldn’t let him see mom. I also wrote about the entire episode here.
And when we decided it was best for me to quit my job and become a stay-at-home dad? Don’t even get me started on THAT! Before finding my footing, it was a daily battle with indecision as my boys tested my patience, my tolerance, and my very beliefs about what it means to be a good parent, and an involved and caring dad.
Long story short, there’s a dozen more stories just like these throughout our short time as parents. My sons test me daily. They are my best/worst mirror. They show me where my warts are but they also show me where the good is. And we focus on that. But make no bones about it…