Editor’s note: This article was originally published in 2016
As hard as it is to believe and as cliched as it is to say, I can’t believe I have been a father for almost a year now. Pretty much everything that has been said, everything written in parenting books, everything used anecdotally by celebrities in regards to fatherhood is spot on.
It’s a trip, a never-ending logistical operation filled with highs, lows, exhaustion, delirium, more highs, fewer lows and much more. It’s easy to say that you could never imagine life without a baby once you have a baby, but that’s not entirely true. In quieter moments you can easily catch yourself looking back at your old life and there are definitely times when you look back at that life and that life led is lit in a very flattering glow. But all of that is fleeting. Fun to think about, but fleeting nonetheless. If I’ve learned one thing this past year it’s that parenthood is all about moving forward- moving on to the next day, the next stage, the next tooth coming in.
Actually, that’s not all I’ve learned this past year. The whole moving forward thing might be the most prevalent, but it’s not the only lesson learned throughout my first year of fatherhood. There’s actually 22 more.
Any song out there can be turned into a kid-friendly song
It’s true and all about how you sing it. “I Can’t Feel My Face” by the Weeknd and “Shake It Off” by up and coming indie songwriter Taylor Swift were big hits at the changing table. A surprise winner was “Close Your Eyes” by Run the Jewels, which yes, I know, is probably not a song suitable for a newborn. But dude, it worked and a sub-lesson to this lesson: if it works, do it. Don’t question it, just do it and be happy it works.
Keep your DVR stocked, especially with sitcoms
During the first couple of months, I found myself in front of the television a lot- mostly when feeding our little ninja or with the bambino napping in my arms (i.e. “the human hammock.”) Having some shows already on stand by was a game changer; one less thing you have to think about. This proved invaluable, especially when it came to feeding. A hungry baby is like a ticking time bomb. There’s no time to scan channels, man! You need to act fast! You need to make quick decisions. Being able to find something to watch while feeding the baby in two clicks tops streamlines the process, making for a happy baby and a relieved dad. If some of our daughter’s first sentences are lines from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, I’d say we’ll have a pretty good idea when she may have first heard them.
Being able to make a good shushing sound is priceless
The Sleep Sheep is a miracle product, as is anything that produces white noise really. But sometimes you are left to your own devices and being able to replicate the soothing sounds of a white noise machine is money.
Ten minutes to go the bathroom is amazing
It’s almost as good as taking a ten-minute nap; only you get to see what is going on in the outside world for a few wonderfully uninterrupted minutes.
The idea of “when they nap, you nap” is great, but it has a shelf life
Yes, during those first two weeks especially, if the baby is taking a nap, you’d be smart to take a quick one yourself. In those first few days you don’t even have to try. You can fall asleep in less than five seconds. But there comes a time when you can’t always take a nap because little things like laundry, eating, dishes and errands need to be done and it becomes harder and harder to get them done when the baby is awake. This realization that you can no longer nap when they do is one of the more harsh realizations that dawn on you during the first two to three months.
If you can take a nap, put the phone down and get to it
The clock is ticking. You don’t know if you’re baby is down for ten minutes or forty, so you can’t be wasting time dinking around on your phone. That’s what the bathroom is for.
Life is easier when your wife lays out the baby’s clothes
This isn’t coming from some kind of that’s women’s work mind-set. Heck no. This is coming from a dude, I’m color-blind and matching clothes is tough mind-set. I have a daughter and little girls have outfits. The onesie matches the pants, both match the lightweight hoodie that goes over the onesie and the friggin’ socks match the whole thing. It’s serious business. You can’t have the bambino going to day care looking like an unemployed clown. She can’t become that baby. I try to put outfits together, but I’m really just gambling and it’s not fair to anyone involved. So long story short, mornings are infinitely better when The Wife is able to lay out clothes ahead of time.
Overalls were invented by the devil
They seem so easy, so perfect, but dude they are a pit of despair when it comes time to put them on. Do you go over the top, up from the bottom? Which snap goes where? With all of the snaps undone the overalls look like a tarp that wasn’t folded up properly. Where the hell do they end and where do they begin? No one knows. No one will ever know.
Onesies that have sleeves that cover the hands are God’s gift to new parents
Little babies are cute and cuddly, but they also have dangerous razor blades at the end of their adorable little hands and those razors can’t be trimmed for a couple months. So as a result you have to put mittens on them. Yet I think one of the first thing a baby learns is how to take those mittens off. It doesn’t matter how you put them on, how you tie them or what you use to tie them (resist the urge to use zip ties) – the baby will get them off. That then defeats the purpose of having them in the first place.
During the first two to three weeks of parenthood I think you want to keep a handle on frustration as much as possible; ensure that for the most part, your life exists within a controlled environment. However, dodging frustration gets increasingly harder when you are picking up mittens all the time and trying to save your baby from little scrapes and cuts on their face. You don’t want a baby who looks like they got into a knife fight with some street toughs. There is a a way to solve this problem though – onesies with long sleeves; long sleeves that unfold and become mitten-like. Take that baby! Your mitts are secured, your face unscathed, your dad un-frustrated. Everyone comes away happy.
Bath time gets easier
It does, which is reassuring because those first few times, bath time does not go well. You can talk yourself into focusing on the precious memories you and your wife are creating but dude, that’s damn near impossible when it sounds like an exorcism is happening. There’s screaming, flailing, more screaming. It’s hot because you’re heating up the kitchen by having the oven on with the door open (a trick my Aunt taught us) and you are also very nervous about breaking the baby- a general fear that becomes even greater when the baby is wet and hard to hold on to.
But it gets easier over time, helped in large part by the introduction of toys and baby’s ability to sit up on their own. Of course then you just worry about them falling over and drowning, but one thing at a time. Focus on the positives here. Actually, focus on the positives everywhere.
You do a lot of dishes
At one point an uncle asked me what was one thing about being a parent that had happened that I did not see coming before hand. My answer was simple- I did not expect to be doing so many damn dishes. He laughed. I didn’t. I didn’t even appreciate the irony as I was doing dishes when he asked me this. Bottles, nips, pacifiers, chew toys, regular toys, medicine droppers, bowls, spoons, bibs, more pacifiers. I’ve spent so much time doing dishes I feel that I’m angling for a cooking position in our house.
CVS is always there for you
Since day one of parenthood I struggle to count the number of days where I didn’t go to CVS. I’ve collected so many large receipts full of coupons I’ll never use that I could wall paper a room with them if I didn’t know that removing wall paper is literally the worst job in the world.
Take a lot of pictures; edit later
Just delete the blurry ones later. Like when you’re in the bathroom.
“Should I make more coffee” is a ridiculous question
It is. Because the answer is always “yes.” Even when you think the answer is “no,” the answer is still “yes.”
The signs will be there when it’s time to ditch the bassinet
You know like, if when the baby is starting to stir and it looks like a velociraptor is trying to get out of it’s cage, it’s time.
The phrase “butt paste” is never not funny
There’s no shame in taking a couple nights to finish a movie
It’s a numbers game and as with any numbers game, there are odds. The odds of you and the Wife finishing a movie in one night are not good. Like with a lot of things baby-related, it’s a race against time. You can’t start it until the baby falls asleep because you’ll miss most of it. Oh, especially if subtitles are involved. That’s definitely not going to happen. It’s probably best to just save anything with subtitles for a few years down the road. Everyone knows movies with subtitles are for middle-aged people anyway.
Back to the numbers game- let’s say the baby falls asleep around 8pm (and this is once they’ve developed a sleep schedule and can go the whole night without sleeping- before then, skip movies and stick with TV shows.) That puts you on the couch roughly around 8:15ish provided dishes are done and everything is packed for the next day. Hopefully you’ve already picked out a movie. If you haven’t, screw it. Just put on the Food Network or something. But if you have picked out a movie beforehand you most likely start it movie around 8:20 or so. Awesome. Fast forward and hour or so and it’s a safe bet that by 10pm you are starting to have trouble keeping your eyes open. This makes sense because you’ve probably be up since 5:30 or 6 that morning. You can try and muscle through, but by 10:30 you’re done; falling asleep with a beer or glass of wine in your hand while the dog looks on, wondering when the hell everyone is going to bed because she’s definitely ready. Add in one or two trips upstairs to chill out the baby, who woke up because she’s sleeping on her pacifier and you’ve maybe watched two hours of the movie. It’s cool man; just finish it tomorrow. It doesn’t matter how much time is left- just call it a day and pick up where you left off tomorrow.
Well, unless…let’s leave it at this: plans are best drawn up in pencil.
The first day of work that doesn’t include a cup of coffee in the afternoon is a heck of an achievement
It’s true. Celebrate. Cherish it. You’ll probably need one the next day.
Switch up what side of the bed the monitor goes on
It shouldn’t live on one side- that’s not fair. Studies have shown that whoever has the monitor on their side doesn’t sleep as well. And by “studies” I mean I’ve noticed it, witnessed it firsthand and believe it to be true. When the monitor is on your side you’re kind of on watch duty and the person on watch never really sleeps. If they do, they definitely don’t sleep as well as the people not on watch. Every noise is loud; the brightness of the monitor will constantly wake you up. It’s a burden that should be shared. It’s only fair. Another “study” shows that fairness alleviates resentment and resentment is best avoided during the early stages of parenthood.
Just because the baby has slept through the night doesn’t mean you will
Yeah, because they might not be breathing and you think about that every time you wake up and realize that they haven’t woken you up. It’s really fun when you first wake up at 4am and your first thought is that you haven’t heard the baby once. So you do one of two things, if not both. You stare long and hard at the monitor, trying to see if their chest is moving. If that doesn’t work, and it won’t, you get up, quietly walk into the baby’s room and gently touch their chest, just to make sure there is a sign of life. And there is. Of course by the time you get back into bed, calm yourself down and eventually fall asleep, the baby has woken up and is ready to start their day.
The answer is always “yes” when the subject is take-out
If one person is thinking about it, odds are the other person is too.
At some point you have to stop answering “tired” when your wife asks how you’re doing
She’s tired. You’re tired. You’ve both been some kind of tired since the baby was born. Might as well accept it and move on.
Because it all goes back to lesson one: it’s all about moving forward.
Ryan O’Connell is originally from sunny Portland, Maine, went to college in Baltimore, spent some time in Philadelphia, and now lives by the beach in wonderful New Jersey. In short order, Ryan loves the Boston Red Sox, New England Patriots, the Black Keys, the Roots, his family, The Wire & the writing of Dave Eggers although his last couple books have been “meh” at best. He does not care for waiting, appreciates someone who maintains a nice front lawn, and harbors a constant fear of losing his keys.
To read more from Ryan, visit GiddyUpAmerica.com