Last week I wrote a lighthearted piece about my wife’s obsession with Halloween. And I posted this terrifying clip from “Twin Peaks,” featuring a character I truly consider to be the most frightening creation of all time.
Those posts were meant to be fun, and so is Halloween. Being scared is fun (unless you’re my wife or my Indian friend or my older brother Mark) and eating candy is fun and dressing up is fun (especially if you’re my wife or my Indian friend). And having a little kid with whom to experience Halloween makes all of those things even more enjoyable.
Obviously, today actually is Halloween, and while this post may be violating the generally accepted tenor of the holiday, it seems an appropriate time to discuss one of the toughest aspects of being a parent.
It’s completely and utterly terrifying.
Being a parent is the scariest thing I have ever done. Or ever will do. And I once ate at a Golden Corral!
When you first have a baby, you worry about everything. You’re concerned when he’s screaming, you’re concerned if he’s too quiet, you get nervous if he’s not pooping enough, you worry when he poops too much, you don’t know what that rash is, you’re not sure if he has a fever, you’re certainly not going to put anything up his ass to find out, etc.
Once he starts moving, it gets both better and worse. He starts falling over and falling off things and bumping into things and eating weird things and breaking things and hurting himself; it’s all very nerve-wracking. But you also get used to it. You realize that he’s probably not going to kill himself from bumping his head, so you relax a bit. But not completely. Because when you have a child you never relax completely. And I’m speaking as someone with a 13-month-old. It’s only going to get more oppressively stressful as he grows older.
My parents used to lie awake waiting for me and my brother to get home late at night, and when I say “used to”, I mean “last year.” It’s not even intentional; they aren’t waiting up, they just can’t sleep as long as there is any uncertainty regarding our well-being. And now that I’m a father, I know what that’s like, even though my kid sleeps in a crib in the other room. I can already tell that I’ll be dealing with the same anxiety for the rest of my life.
I was having a conversation with a friend of mine the other day; he’s also a new dad with similar concerns. And we briefly touched upon the fear that comes with having a kid, and how when it even crosses your mind to consider all the things that might happen, you have to just forget about it and get on with your day. Because if you actually let yourself consider all the things that might happen, you will go insane and may very well end up locking your child in a closet for his own protection. Why? BECAUSE THERE ARE SO MANY TERRIBLE THINGS THAT COULD HAPPEN. So many. It’s ridiculous how dangerous life is for an adult, nevermind for a stupid, defenseless child.
I haven’t even gotten into the non-physical dangers awaiting your child. What if he grows up, for lack of a better term, “bad?” Not like chewing-a-toothpick, wearing-a-leather-jacket Fonzie-kind of bad, but actually actively, remorselessly, sociopathically bad? I don’t care if it’s a fault of genetics or bad parenting, if your kid turns out to be a criminal or a sadist or, gulp, a Republican, that’s gotta suck. What if he gets hooked on drugs? Or becomes a Scientologist? Or just ends up being a failure? So many terrible possibilities. The stress is outrageous.
Everyone talks about how amazing it is to have a child, and I can vouch for that. But man, there is a lot of room for disappointment and pain and sadness too. And most of it is not stuff that can be realistically guarded against; it’s just life, and it happens. The good, the bad and the ugly. You just have to roll with it. I guess the question, at the end of the day, is whether it’s worth it. Not having a kid and living a more carefree life, full of drinking and sleeping late and lots of traveling and tons of disposable income and all the fun that comes with not having to protect and provide for and mold an entire human being is probably pretty fun. I know it was fun before I had a kid.
And that’s the problem. As scary as it is, and as great as your old life can look from the vantage point of an existence littered with dirty diapers and tantrums and exhaustion and constant, all-consuming worry, once you’ve actually had the kid, you just can’t imagine going back. Before you’ve had the kid? Oh hell yes! Please, someone, go back in time and stop me. STOP ME FROM DOING IT, I’M BEGGING YOU.
But now that he’s here? I will literally EAT YOUR TONGUE if you try and take my son from me. Because as scary as it is to be a parent, you ain’t seen scary until you try to revoke the privilege.
Although I will gladly let you borrow him for a week or two. Any takers? We could use a fucking break over here.