Thursday, April 10, 2014

Year Two Musings

Where does the time go? I use this expression to both refer to the whirlwind of the first two years of my son’s life – and also the fact that I’m sitting down to write his two year blog about two months late. Yikes! Suddenly it makes perfect sense why my parents saw zero TV shows during the 1980s. Raising kids takes up all your time!

But as we hit the two year mark, it seems like an appropriate time to look back – to do a retrospective of sorts, of the entire “baby experience”. Don’t get me wrong – I know there are many, MANY years of child rearing ahead of me – but this blog started out as “man-vs-baby”, a look at how having a baby changes one’s life. So what have I learned over the past two years?

Love. Ironically, in my first ever man-vs-baby blog post, I talked about how I was looking forward to teaching my child about unconditional love (you know, the kind of love one has for Cincinnati professional sports teams even though they perennially crush hearts and dreams). However, more than anything else, having a child truly shows you what unconditional love really is. .People can talk about loving food, their friends, family, heck – even their spouse. But in some aspects, those are easy. You are able to love them while still retaining some independence and ability to do what you want. A baby comes into your life and takes away some of those things that you previously held so dear and encroaches on the majority of those independent activities. Remember the good old days of being able to read the newspaper at breakfast and have a leisurely meal? Gone. Remember being able to spend a lazy Saturday on the couch watching football and drinking beer all day? Gone. Clean cars and clothes? Gone. If one of your friends started dating someone who immediately impeded their ability to do all the things that they loved, you would call it a horrible, one-sided relationship, and one that was doomed to fail. Yet this is exactly what happens with a baby. It’s like marrying an uber-controlling chick who mandates how you spend nearly every minute of your day… yet you still love her more than anything in the world.

It’s crazy when you think about it. I remember before I had a baby, people would tell me all sorts of stories about how much your life would change… and thinking to myself, “this sounds horrible”. But they’d always finish the stories by saying something like “yeah, but it’s totally worth it”. I never understood that – and I don’t think anyone can understand it until it happens to them. But it’s totally true. What makes it “worth” giving up so many things that you thought previously defined you?

I’m not sure if it’s a sense of obligation (since you brought this life into the world and feel a sense of responsibility towards it), a desire to impart all the wisdom and life lessons that you’ve gained to someone else (allowing you to impact the future), or the feeling of pride and accomplishment of watching your baby grow – but in the end, it all boils down to the same thing. You would do absolutely anything for this other human being, even if they (literally) crap on everything you used to hold dear.

While you still fundamentally remain the same person you were pre-baby, having a baby gives you a new sense of purpose in life and in some aspects re-defines you. The weird thing is, when you suddenly see this new purpose and responsibility in life, it makes a lot of the old ones seem less important in comparison. The happiness you gain from seeing your baby walk for the first time, or say their first word is far greater than any joy that you got from those things in your life that the baby may have taken away. If you asked me to name the highlight of this year so far, Jackson doing the “Go Dayton Flyers” cheer on his own would be towards the top of the list. It’s that amazing.  

Hmmm – I guess when you put it like that, maybe it’s not such an unconditional love. In the end, you do get something back in return. Maybe it’s more like a long-term investment. You put in a lot of energy and hours that don’t immediately pay off. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – babies aren’t really that fun. Babies are for girls because they get to cuddle them, dress them up, and… well, treat them like babies. Toddlers are for boys – bringing the kind of entertainment that can only come from a miniature person saying “go away D” instead of “Go UD”. They come back to you slowly over the years, in little moments and big events that make you forget about all the things you sacrifice along the way.

Unique. The other big thing I’ve learned is that parents can’t pick their children – and that’s a very good thing. What do I mean by this? Some of Jackson’s favorite things in the world are trucks, diggers, and construction equipment. All things that KB and I care exactly zero about – and didn’t care about when we were kids. This has both educated us (turns out that diggers are really called things like “front end loaders” and “backhoes”) and introduced all sorts of new toys into the household to play with. I know there are all sorts of debate about nature vs. nurture out there – but Jackson came out of the womb loving this stuff through zero intervention from the outside world. Your first reaction might be – “who is this kid? Why doesn’t he like the same things I like? Does the mailman like diggers?” But the more I think about it, the more interesting it makes life. How boring things would be if Jackson grew up loving Dave Matthews Band and watched TV shows from the 1980s. We would constantly be arguing about setlists and which Transformer is the best – and of course I would be right and he would be wrong, which would be crushing to his self-esteem.

By default, having kids broadens your horizons. You find yourself spending time at any local park you can find, the zoo on any nice weekend (along with every other parent in a 100 mile radius) and what restaurants can get food on the table within 5 minutes of placing an order (thank you Skyline). But through Jackson, I’ve also learned so much about all modes of transportation, construction equipment, and the joys associated with pretending there are bugs hiding under our couch… which he then pretends to eat.

Don’t get me wrong – as mentioned earlier, I do my best to influence him in life. There’s a reason he knows the UD cheer, calls football and basketball “Daddy’s Game”, and enjoys Skyline chili. But the fact that he is his own independent little person with his own interests and priorities is pretty cool. It’s also what is completely terrifying about having a kid. No matter what you might do, they might turn out to be moody, stubborn, or listen to Nickelback. You can do as much as you can as a parent to mold them in your self-image, but there is only so much you can do.

The Truth. On my first blog post, I mentioned the “big three” in the American Dream – getting married, getting a house, and having babies. I mentioned how society deems all three as completely worthwhile endeavors and all things that people should try in life. I was 100% on board with getting married and 100% against home ownership, but was unsure about having a child – and promised that I would provide you the truth on this blog. So with two years under my belt, what does the survey say?

Turns out kids are awesome.

I’m not saying this because I have a child and want everyone else to feel my pain.

I’m not saying this to trick myself into thinking it’s great and I made a smart decision.

At the end of the day, my life is better with Jackson in it, plain and simple. He brings me happiness, purpose, and entertainment. He’s a lot of work, but even after two years, the payout has exceeded the investment – and that’s all you can ask for any gamble, right?

In fact, I like it so much that I think I’m going to go another round – or as Jackson would put it “more again”. Yep, we’re taking this American Dream to the next level by adding Baby #2 – coming this summer!

I feel like it’s only fair to get a Blog or two up prior to this child’s arrival, so that it doesn’t appear like I’m playing favorites – but to be honest, it seems like a much less dramatic life change than the first child presented. Maybe it’s because we have no time to think (or worry) about it, or maybe it’s because society has much less “structure” around a second child (no showers, no people constantly asking “are you ready!?”, no unrequested advice about parenting from family, friends, and strangers), but it’s almost like a normal event at this point, rather than something that is going to fundamentally change everything we know.

Now that I have effectively jinxed myself into having a devil child that will exhaust me beyond belief and strip away the brief minutes of independent freedom I still have in my life, I’ll close out this Blog. Consider this the end of the “Jackson Only Posts”. Monk, you’ve had a good run – thousands upon thousands of words solely dedicated to you and you alone. Your future brother / sister will not be so lucky, so this will be something you can hold over his / her head for the rest of your lives if you ever want to claim that you are the favorite. But that’s not true (well, it could be true if they turn out to be a devil child) – you were just the first. That’s super special, and I love you for it – you were basically the best first child anyone could ever ask for - but you came into our lives in a time when I still had some free time and need to document the overall “baby experience”.

From here on out, it becomes the “two child experience”. Goodbye month-to-month thoughts, hello broad experience posts and complaints. It’s man-vs-baby 2.0! The exciting and terrifying future awaits!