You know that guy at the barbeque who just won’t shut up about his kids?
It doesn’t matter what you talk about he is somehow able to relate it back to little Michael’s first day at kindergarten or darling Janie’s freakish gift for finger paint. He actually seems fairly normal other than the relentless prattle about his offspring.
Well, that guy is actually me.
If you’d told me five years ago I would end up being BBQ-baby-babble guy I would have thought you were demented. I was an insurance broker for a multi-national corporation. My days consisted of ‘leveraging strategic assets’ and ‘generating shareholder revenue’. The closest I came to paternal instinct was the care and cajoling of a company risk portfolio. I had never even held a baby until the doctor put my little one into my bewildered, shell-shocked arms.
My life changed from the second my girlfriend and I traced the faint blue cross on the stick of peril. Her once shapely form blossomed like a ripe fruit. I would walk behind her, Sumo wrestler-style, making pounding sounds with each foot fall and quote those immortal lines from Ghostbusters:
“The destroyer has been chosen... It’s Mr. Stay Pufffttt! Ahhhhh, run for your life!”
Ya – she loved that one.
After a few nights of sleeping outside, though, I began to see things from her perspective. I’m here to tell you, there’s nothing funny about cankles. Or acute heartburn. Or crazy pregnancy hormones that mean you have to eat a life-times worth of broad beans and mushroom soup in nine months.
The birth itself was harrowing. (Yeah okay it wasn’t quite as bad for me as it was for my partner). My partner did have one advantage over me though. She was the active party, the person doing the birthing. I on the other hand was simply the backseat driver; the newbie buddy-strapped to the sky diving instructor on my first jump. I was powerless to do anything. The roller coaster ride of emotions that we both went through during the birth was profound, culminating in the heart stopping moment when I finally got to hold my newborn. I was proud, relieved, shaken, tired and happy. So very, very happy.
I watched the nurse wrap up my little girl, cocoon-like, in a blanket. Over the next few days I studied the way the midwives held her, changed her and washed her. They were deft and sure, making it look easy.
Me on the other hand, I looked like a complete tool. Terrified of hurting my impossibly tiny baby I was clumsy and slow. I took out two blankets, my shirt and one of bubba’s onesies in my first attempt to change her. Sometimes I would get so wrapped up in staring at my perfect little girl I’d forget what I was doing and just gawp at her like I was on some serious drugs.
After four days at the hospital trying to learn how not to kill our child we were allowed to take her home. Home, away from the constant reassurance and guidance of medical professionals. We were now on our own. Gulp.
Those first few months nearly killed us. The sleep deprivation was murderous. Our baby was a month premature so her circadian rhythm was upside down and she was underweight. She had to be fed every three hours. My girlfriend and I slept in shifts and approached each feed with apprehension. Sometimes it would take bubba 45 minutes just to accept the nipple. All the while I had this niggling thought that I was doing something wrong. Like I was missing some important step which would make the whole process easier. It was really hands on. I can only liken it to some form of torture. A torture that involves you learning a new job without sleeping. A job that has no instruction manual and gives zero performance feedback. A job that you must learn or someone dies.
In case you’re wondering if I went back to being insurance broker guy the answer is no. I have a new profession now as a cook, cleaner and full-time dad. As it turns out my skills in this area, despite the arduous introduction, are quite respectable. I’ve certainly come a long way in the kitchen and am now considered by my girlfriend and her work colleagues (who cluster around her office to see what she has for lunch) quite the gourmand.
I do all the things that only women did until about 30 years ago, with one major difference: I come up against some stereotypes about what’s Mum’s job and what’s Dad’s job. I sometimes get comments from shop assistants like “Oh, got the little one for the day have we? Now you know how tough us mums have it.” But it’s a dying stereotype for sure.
Some days I long to be back in my office: those days of DEFCON five nappies and endless crying. But all things considered I really like my new job. The rewards are great even though the hours and the pay are terrible. So next time you’re at a barbeque and I’m there blabbering away about my kid maybe give me a moment of your time.
You never know. It could be you one day.
“Grown don’t mean nothing to a mother. A child is a child. They get bigger, older, but grown. In my heart it don’t mean a thing.”*
As our children grow and become more independent, we might become a wee bit complacent about their existence, lost in the daily grind and focusing on the world outside the home. But it doesn’t take much to realise how shockingly fragile human life is, and how quickly childhood will be over, though the connections and feelings that bind us will remain for eternity.
* Tony Morrison (American novelist, editor, and professor)