Being a parent means so many little changes in your life. Big ones, too, naturally, but little ones that don’t even really trip the radar. There’s the level of ambient noise you perceive as “normal” in your house or the world (increases the longer you have kids). There’s a general level of cleanliness you’re willing to accept (and which deteriorates over time). There’s the idea of being awakened in the middle of the night for things short of the house literally being in flames or an actual intruder coming to murder your face (goes from “hardly ever acceptable” to “pretty much planned and expected every night”). And you’re aware of these things in a detached way but not so much that you actively think about them.
Then there are the things that sneak up on you and which you accept so completely and unquestioningly that it shocks you in retrospect. For example, I am willing to believe just about anything my wife tells me that I know about or knew about. She could lie to me and tell me that she explained the meaning of life to me in all its nuanced poetic simplicity over pancakes yesterday, and I would believe it in a heartbeat despite not actually being in possession of said knowledge, and also knowing full well that we did not have pancakes yesterday. My mind has become a leaky sieve, and I am no longer a good judge of whether or not I have heard something before and whether I told a thing to somebody or whether I remembered to put on pants before the family came over for dinner (spoiler alert: I didn’t, and continued to prep dinner for thirty minutes in my pajamas before my wife pulled me aside to correct the situation).
All that is to say that I no longer trust myself to know what’s actually going on right in front of me, and I will latch like a facehugger onto any explanation which presents itself, whether that explanation is reasonable or not.
Case in point.
I’m driving to work the other morning. It’s not even a discombobulated, late, running-out-the-door-with-shaving-cream-still-on-my-ear kind of morning. I woke up, ran, showered, shaved, had breakfast, said goodbye to the wife and kids, and got into the car and drove off. I even remembered my pants. I turn on the radio and I’m listening to the prattle of the Bert Show as one of the DJs (is she a DJ if she doesn’t wrangle music?… whatever) professes that she can divine facts about a person’s life just by looking at their wedding registry. You know, high-brow entertainment. So I’m driving and not-really-listening when I hear this voice.
It’s a strange voice. It’s too high and too stilted and the cadence is weird and I can’t make out a word of what it’s saying. It’s not speaking a foreign language, it’s just speaking at the lower register of what’s audible. I turn down the radio and it stops. “Okay,” my brain thinks, “it’s just ambient noise from the studio, maybe somebody forgot to squelch a mic or wandered through the studio gossiping about their weekend. No worry.” And on I drive.
Then I hear it again, same weird pitch, same weird cadence, same inaudible volume. But I hear it more distinctly now. A voice outside the car? I’m driving through a neighborhood so it’s possible it could have been a kid shouting. I buy it until I look in the mirror and see no evidence of any kids waiting on buses anywhere in the vicinity. I turn the radio off and it stops again. Fishy. On I drive.
It’s when I hear the alien voice for a third time that my brain just throws up its hands and says, “Okay, I give up, you’re obviously going insane and hearing voices is just a part of your life now.” I still can’t make out the words, but the voice is insistent and deliberate under the drone of the radio. I’ve switched stations so I know it’s not an artifact of the studio. I’m no longer in a residential area so it can’t be somebody speaking outside the car. Yet there it is, sounding almost like it’s coming from inside my own head. Do I have to be concerned about hearing voices? Does it matter if there’s a sinister voice telling me to kill people if I can’t understand what it’s saying? Maybe it’s my subconscious whispering to me in German because I somehow subliminally understand German from a past life I had living in feudal Germany? I turn off the radio to be alone with my thoughts and drive for a solid five minutes under the assumption that this oddball voice is just something I’m going to have to learn to live with.
Then I come up on a red light and stop, and I hear the voice again. Without the hum of the radio and the whimper of the car’s engine, the voice is suddenly crystal clear, if still muffled and distant sounding in my head.
“Nine! This is the number, NINE.” *Boing, boing, boing*
And immediately my mind flashes back in time two months to the time my son brought this horribly annoying Grover “remote control” that talks to you when you push its buttons and how much I hated that toy and how happy I didn’t realize I was when he somehow didn’t have it when we got out of the car; so happy I didn’t bother to think what had happened to it. Obviously it slipped from his hand and slithered across the cheeto- and cheerio-crusted floor and found its way up under the driver’s seat and wedged itself in amongst the discarded coke cans and the seat’s guide rails and waited, WAITED for me to forget all about it so that it could one day — THIS DAY — begin using the momentum of the car to fling itself against a screw, which would depress the number “9” button, so that it could prattle its inane message that “THIS IS THE NUMBER NINE” into my subconscious under the guise of being radio interference.
Look, the toy is not sentient, okay? I know that. I HAVE TO BELIEVE THAT. This story is not about the toy, it’s about the mind of an adult turning to mush after two years of looking after a tiny human. It’s about the fact that it seemed — and I am not exaggerating in the least here, though I am wont to do so — more reasonable to me that I had actually gone GIBBERING INSANE on my ride into work than that a perfectly innocuous toy might have been triggered in the backseat and started singing about the number nine. In other words, simple problem-solving strategies and common sense filters completely failed me in that moment.
Why have they failed me? Because there is no simple problem solving strategy, and there is no such thing as common sense when you have a toddler. I found a stuffed animal crammed into one of our living room lamps the other night. I don’t even know how the kid was able to reach high enough to get the thing in there, or how my wife and I failed to notice it lurking, bright orange and horribly silhouetted, against the lampshade for the weeks it was up there (judging from the healthy layer of dust). I had to tell my kid not to drink bathwater out of his little pitcher thingy not thirty seconds after he had nearly drowned himself in the tub DRINKING BATHWATER OUT OF THE LITTLE PITCHER THINGY. The phrase, “You can’t have any smarty-candies because you didn’t make a poop” actually came out of my mouth. I’ve cleaned MUSTARD off of the TELEVISION. And that was all just in the last two days.
I don’t want to say that the kid(s) made me crazy. They didn’t. They’re only tiny little humans. What they’ve done is eroded my mind and made me into something like a child again myself. Higher-level thinking goes out the window when you’re a parent. You start believing in fantastical, ridiculous sharknado because you forget to care about whether it makes sense or not.
Did I give the impression that all this was a bad thing? I’m not sure that it is.