Friday, June 26, 2015

First-time parents: Trust me, you've got this

(NOTE: Following is something I originally posted on June 11, 2012. It was titled "The Numbing Realization That No Parent Really Has Any Idea What They're Doing," and it got a nice response. Probably because it expresses fears and feelings that most rookie parents experience. I changed the headline a bit this time around, but the sentiment remains the same. I hope you like it.)

Howie Mandel said something once that still resonates with me.

This was when Howie was doing stand-up comedy back in the mid-80s. And he still had hair. And he wasn't so OCD about people touching him. And he used to stretch a surgical glove over his head and blow it up with his nose, which I still find hilarious because I'm an extremely simple man who will laugh at almost anything.

Anyway, Howie and his wife had just had their first child. He said that sometimes he would stop in the middle of what he was doing and say to himself, "I'm someone's dad." The point being that he was just a big goofball and someone in authority had clearly messed up if he, Howie Mandel, was allowed to be the father of a tiny human being.

I'm willing to bet there's not a parent alive who has not felt something similar. You can read all the books you want. You can babysit all the kids you want. You can take all the classes you want. But when you bring that baby home from the hospital for the first time and there are no longer any nurses around to take the little rugrat away whenever you feel the least bit sleepy,that's when reality sets in.

It starts as a low-grade panic somewhere deep in your stomach. And then it gets worse as you realize this is actually happening, and that YOU are the one who is ultimately responsible for the well-being of this impossibly small creature.

And you think to yourself, "This isn't good. I am not in the least bit qualified for this job. I am a Grade A screw-up who can barely remember to change the filter in my fish tank, and suddenly I have to feed, dress and otherwise oversee the upbringing of another person? No, this is not good..."

I remember when Terry and I brought Elissa home from the hospital. We were both dead tired (she more so than me, for reasons that should be obvious). Elissa was sleeping peacefully, as I recall, but when we unloaded everything from the car and laid her down in her little bassinet, we realized we had no idea what to do next. Not a clue.

I think we just sort of sat and stared at each other for a minute. Then we turned on the TV. Whenever Elissa made any sort of noise, we both jumped up and checked on her to see what was wrong.

That night, our first as parents in our own home, was terrible. Elissa continued making the sort of small, ultimately inconsequential noises that newborns do. And every time she did, one or both of us would jerk our heads up and wonder if we needed to go and get her.

By the next morning, we were wrecks. Tired, disheveled and most of all crushingly disheartened at the prospect of spending the next several hundred nights doing the same thing.

But somehow we got through. Night by night we survived. We developed a little routine where I would get up first whenever Elissa awoke, change her diaper, and bring her to Terry for breastfeeding.

Slowly but surely, things got easier. We managed to keep Elissa alive long enough for Chloe to be born. And then Jared. And then Melanie. And finally Jack. And somewhere along the way we learned what it meant to be parents. We're still learning, in fact.

I hope Howie eventually did, too.

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