It’s come to this.
That, indeed, is a picture of my two-year-old in the bathtub and my steak sitting on the counter. Never mind the clusterfargo of bottles and shampoos and towels on the counter, that’s called sharing a bathroom with a toddler. I’ll come back to the picture in a moment.
I want to talk right now to those of you reading this blarg who don’t have kids, who are planning to have kids, who don’t have kids yet, or who occupy any other spot on the spectrum between definitely-not-having-kids-ever and having-kids-tomorrow. I know you’ve read the blogs and websites and books about having a child and the way it will change your life. It’s all true. One way or another, every bit of advice and every admonition you’ve read about having kids will be true for you, from cleaning another human’s poop off your own face (I got that one at oh, three months old) to rushing the kid to the hospital because he hadn’t pooped in five days (a problem easily fixed by shoving a Q-tip up the backed-up sphincter like a horrifying plumber’s snake that rides the river of Sharknado back to daylight) to a dubious little achievement I like to call the Trifecta, which included being peed on, pooped on, and barfed on, all within the space of just a couple of hours. And, um, a lot of your stories and more importantly your memories of having kids will involve poop. Like, disordinately, poop will figure in your life now.
But all that’s peripheral for today’s lesson. Poop is not involved today, even though I just spent an entire paragraph – not a short one either – talking about it (which just illustrates my point about poop, okay, the poop talk is over now, I promise). Today’s lesson is that you do not fully realize how nice it is to possess time.
Okay, so that’s a bit metaphysical. Obviously you can’t possess time. At best we’re all renting a pair of sharknado-ey beach binoculars while time sails past like some coked-up paraglider, laughing at us and how tiny we are, OHMYGOD THOSE PEOPLE LOOK LIKE ANTS DOWN THERE like. But before you have kids, you at least have a lease on your time. The time you have is yours while you have it. Wanna write a novel with your time? God bless. Build treehouses for the family of pygmies squatting in your backyard? Go nuts. Collect stamps or coins or teeth or scabs? Have at it. That’s your time, spend or waste it as you see fit.
When the baby arrives, your time is no longer yours. Nobody tells you this. The contracts were signed in blood and smoke in whatever alternate dimension babies come from before they arrive, purple and squealing, in our world. The baby owns your time now. Yours, and your spouse’s, and in fact the time that belongs to anybody in the near vicinity. The baby (and this certainly holds true up until two and a half, from my specifically personal experience, though I can only imagine it goes on a lot longer) is a black hole that sucks up time and light and energy and will, if left unchecked, probably swallow the sun. Seriously, you have to watch those things every minute, or they will swallow some crazy things. Toddlers, not black holes. Black holes only swallow up stars and galaxies and planets; your baby might swallow a magnet or a matchbox car, and then you are super-fargoed.
The process is simple, insidious, and inescapable. There’s the first weeks, in which the child must be fed every couple of hours. So kiss your lovely eight or nine or twelve (hey, I don’t know your life) hours a night goodbye. Welcome to sleep deprivation, because even if you and your spouse work out a system (man oh man do babies and toddlers love to mess up your “systems”) you will within days be a bleary-eyed, stumbling, forgetting-what-the-haberdashery-you-came-into-the-kitchen-for-oh-that’s-right-water-I-forgot-to-drink-water-for-three-days-and-I-just-peed-and-it-was-black shadow of your former self. You’re disoriented, and the passage of time becomes surreal, impossible, flatly in defiance of the laws of physics that you thought you knew. Honestly, my wife and I are on sprout #2 now — meaning we’ve been through this once already — and we are still unprepared for how bad it is. Today, she and I were lying in bed during the kids’ naps (and oh, will you live for the kids’ naptimes) and I noticed that the clock said two PM. I thought it was nine in the morning.
Once disorientation sets in, the buggers start seriously mucking about with the rules of spacetime. Simple activities stretch endlessly out toward oblivion. How long does it take you to leave your house now? From, say, waking up to showering to dressing to stuffing a packaged pastry down your beak to walking out the front door. On a good day, you could do it in twenty minutes, right? With a kid, try six hours. Seriously, start preparing to leave the house now if you think you might need to go somewhere next Tuesday. You’re not sleeping anyway, might as well get a jump on it. No matter how much you think you have your bases covered, you’ll forget to brush your teeth, or remember that the kid hasn’t eaten yet, or you’ll forget to remember to pack diapers, or … you get the idea, you’re sleep-deprived, remember? And that doesn’t account for the endless stream of wiping and changing diapers and feeding and burping and buttoning and snapping and zippering and this is your life circling the event horizon.
So you’ve lost the flow of time because your day is no longer nicely bookended by sleep. Your conception of the passage of time is not merely bent but entirely broken by all the extra processes that having a tiny human in your care brings to bear. All that has nothing to do with the child’s individual personality; that’s just keeping the little bundle of joy — let’s call it joy — alive. Then the knife slips in. Once the kid is past those first few months or so, it begins having thoughts and feelings and it begins communicating them in a meaningful way and that means that the child can actively direct you to do things, which means your life is over. Which brings me to the bathroom steak, pictured above.
We sat down to a nice dinner. I mean, really nice, as far as dinner in your own home goes. My mother stopped by and bought us steaks, veggies, the whole spread, and asked if we wanted help getting dinner cooked. I said no, we’ve got it covered. (That sound in the background was the two-year-old cackling like a supervillain watching the hero run into a trap.) The moment the steaks touched the grill, Sprout started screaming, clamoring for attention, bouncing off the walls. At one point, he had a cat slung over his shoulder by the tail. My wife, god love her, was elbows-deep in newborn baby, so it was just me and the toddler. (For the moment, at least, we’re in basically man-to-man coverage, which is working… okay.) The tantrum escalated, but those were gorgeous steaks, and I wasn’t gonna let those badboys burn. So I cajoled and chased him around the den, alternately soothing his screams, popping out to check my steaks every couple minutes, stirring veggies on the stove, and holy sharknado now it’s taken me an hour to cook dinner. That means we’re past Sprout’s bedtime, but he needs a bath tonight because he’s been to a toddler party today which means he might as well be a petri dish with legs. I sigh, prepare the plates, take one to my dear wife who has her boob in the newborn’s mouth and a look that begs for just a moment of peace on her face, and take the other plate upstairs and run Sprout’s bath. He splashes around, finally happy, as I shovel my delectable steak dinner down my gullet, hardly tasting it. I haven’t enjoyed a meal in two years. I barely remember what it’s like to chew. My co-workers stare at me because my lunch is devoured in minutes and then I sit there awkwardly while they eat at a nice, leisurely pace, you know, like HUMANS. I never thought I would ever eat a steak in a bathroom, but on this night, horking down mouthwatering bites of heaven with all the appreciation you give to the water you rinse with after brushing your teeth, I didn’t even blink an eye.
The moral of the story is this. If you don’t have kids yet, enjoy your life while you can. Really savor it. The quiet moments between you and your partner. The unhurried enjoyment of a good meal and quiet conversation. Because if a child is in your future, well… they’re signing the contracts on your time already.