8/30/08

How Do You Work This Thing?

I almost called my mom tonight. I needed a little help with a writing assignment. It's a radio commercial, about a college planning website, and I'm trying to write the script to sound like a real, honest parent reflecting on her performance so far. She opens by saying, "Diapers I was good at. Free throws, not so much. I’m even doing okay helping with Algebra homework — it’s all kind of coming back to me..." Then she goes on to explain that she found college planning a little overwhelming at first (which is pretty darned understandable, if you ask me), but that this website made the process less daunting.

I'm not especially good at writing like a mother. In fact, truth be told, I was already reaching when I wrote the script for a male character -- it wasn't until the client assumed the opposite that we even considered making the voiceover female. And that makes it tricky to field the revisions. I'm scarcely sure how I managed to approximate a mom's voice in the first place, let along how to preserve that illusion after making script changes. The latest issue is that second sentence: "Free throws, not so much." We're worried that it might sound stereotypical for a mom to say she's bad at sports. So we've tried to swap in a whole slew of alternates: "Baking brownies, not so much." "Making meatloaf, not so much." And we're running out of ideas. We don't want it to be a kitchen thing, you know? But it needs to be a believable mom-ly duty, and short enough that it doesn't take any longer to say than the free-throw version. You only get sixty seconds.

I thought of all sorts of challenges my mom faced raising me. And unfortunately, I couldn't think of any she wasn't good at. Actually, the most interesting and memorable challenges were the really specific ones, that only applied to our family and would take way too much explanation. Even those she aced, anyways: "Diapers I was good at. Pulling off a papier-mache replica of George Washington's head, one night before it's due and with no balloons on the premises? Piece of cake!"

So I'm stuck on figuring out a plausible task to replace the free throws. And since admitting that, I'm realizing that I don't really know *anything* about the challenges you face as a parent. And I'd better start figuring it out quickly.

*****

I've never been a Baby Guy. I'd like to be; I've tried to be, but it just has never really come together for me with the, uh... folks of the baby persuasion. They cry when I look at them, and they cry when I look away, and they generally change colors and spew Gerber's everywhere, more or less, until somebody more Baby Qualified shows up and fixes things.

Now that Penny and I will have one here before long -- just a few more months to go -- I'm waiting for some sort of swaddling instinct to kick in, some inborn knowledge of what to say, how to react, how to "support the head!" Apparently you have to support the head when you hold them. No sign of any such instinct so far.

Even just growing one is a humbling experience. You go to the doctor and you hang on every word the doctor says and the doctor says you have to get Penny some Omega 3s. They sound like golf clubs, but you nod and say that yes, you will absolutely see to it that we get Penny some Omega 3s with her daily vitamins. Fish oil is reputedly chock full of these omega substances, so you get a big jar of fish oil vitamins.

Next time you see the doctor, fish oil is no good. Too much mercury. So you need the fish oil that doesn't come from fish, they say, and to you this is like searching for a waterproof sponge. You manage to find it nonetheless.

And even though this incoming infant is more than welcome, and absolutely intended and anticipated and will be loved and protected like the blessing he or she is, I can't understand why people keep asking if I'm ready.

"So," they say, beaming in my direction with giant friendly smiles, "Are you ready to be a father?"

Heck no! It seems really hard, to be honest with you.*

* It doesn't help that most everyone likes to tell you just how hard parenthood is, and how exhausting and expensive and et-cetera the whole process will be, now that you can't do anything about it whatsoever. I have immense appreciation and fondness for two of my friends, Val and Ryan, each of whom has kids and kindly assures me that parenthood is not so impossible at all. Val's girls are a handful, I'm sure, but she copes alright. And Ryan's so crazy about Simeon that he even thinks the little guy's baby acne is cute. Ryan says he doesn't know why people like to scare expectant parents, but he refuses to take part. If you're ever expecting, I hope you have friends like these.

I'm reading everything I can get my hands on, soliciting advice, trying to reflect on being a kid myself and trying to remember why I did stuff like punch my sister and eat too many vitamins and, sooner still, crap my pants every day. I can't remember what made any of that that sound like a good idea. Well, the vitamin thing made sense, actually. Which makes it even scarier.

I don't even know why I do the things I do now, so I fail to see how I could be qualified to explain any of this to somebody else. Me being a father right now seems like Penny squeezing a human being out of her body. I believe that it's possible; I accept that it will happen, I just can't imagine how.

Don't believe me? Here's me trying to hold a baby about a week ago.
That's Gianna, my new niece, and presumably a friend-to-be of our own child, who won't even be a year younger than her.

The only kid so far who has really cottoned to me is little Elliott, Heather and Michael's daughter, and I'm convinced it's only because she didn't know me that well. I think I just give kids the willies. I remember being a kid -- this is one part I do recall -- and just finding certain adults icky. You can tell, as a kid, whether you're dealing with a sprout-sympathizer of a grown-up or a stone-cold kid-hater. I probably come off as the latter, even though I'm not.

I wish I had what some other folks have, with these close bonds they've forged with children who aren't even theirs. My friend James is, like, soulmates with his niece and nephew, and constantly looks forward to whenever he'll be seeing them next. Gerald was the hero of Tristan, the toddler son of a friend of Gerald's. Penny's world lit up with a little guy named Jalen we used to know, and it was obvious the feeling was mutual.

Me? I'm good with animals.

So we'll see. I'm not seriously worried that it won't work out, and that I'll hold my own flesh and blood at arm's length like, well, a dirty diaper, but I wish I could get a glimpse of feeling parental already, some peek into what it'll be like and how I'll handle it. Kind of like a sneak preview.

Maybe it'll all just hit me when the baby gets here. Maybe I'll suddenly know what to do. And if not, well, at least I can finish my script.

11 comments:

Kimberly said...

Take a deep breather dude. Becoming a father/ a parent takes a lot longer than you think. A lot of trial and error. Coming from someone who came home from the hospital with two; it doesn't really hit ya until the family and friends are no longer around to help.
You learn to deal, to manage, and somewhere in between that, you and Penny develope a rhythm. You will be caught up in it, wrapped up, and then one day you realize,"Wow, this is pretty cool!"
When that baby comes out all you need to know is that he/she is yours. You will love him/her more that you can ever imagine and that is all that matters. You thought you knew your hearts capacity to love until you look into the eyes of that baby and then you are swept away somewhere you never knew existed. It is amazing!

Make sure you talk to the baby and I swear that baby will know your voice. You both are going to do awesome. It will all fall into place. And if you are even half or a quarter as good as you are with my two (and by the way they adore you and Penny both, they talk about you all the time, yes you, Colin the Camera Man), you will have it in the bag. Just BE! You have the tools. All it takes is love and honestly, HUMOR!A lot of HUMOR! Laugh a lot. LAUGH and LAUGH. You will know comedy soon. The joy of every first and learning that baby's quirks and faces. Ahhhhh! Pure joy! You are gonna love it and do fine! Both of you!

And about your dilema with the script....Maybe she can shoot hoops. The mothers of today played lots of sports when they were younger. So maybe she can sink a 3 pointer. I hear ya though, it is hard to put yourself there. Good luch with it.

Anonymous said...

Col-
There were lots of things I didn't do very well when you kids were growing up, but I'm very flattered that you didn't notice. But, that's kind of the "deal" between a parent and a child. You are undoubtedly the best father your baby ever had, and the way you father your baby is the way that baby will understand that "fathering" should be. 'Sort of a "Catch 22," huh? Like. the way you do it is the right way, so it had better be RIGHT! I wouldn't suggest that you and Penny toss the child to one another across the room, but you seemed fine with it. Now, Katie would for-sure say that's not right, and , as I said, I wouldn't suggest it, but it was a good thing at the time.

You know the story of how I knew I liked you -- that day in the car that I will never, ever forget. Well, you'll have your moment of truth, too. But you already love your baby, so that's cinch. And your baby will love you immediately, too -'probably already does. I wasn't very "good with kids" until you came along.

One funny thing I noticed about your post is the last sentence. If the script you're referencing is the assignment you're trying to complete, then I'm sure you'll finish it, and it will be at least wonderful if not marvelous, as is all your work. However, the parenting script is never finished -- I'm still writing mine. It is the finest thing I have ever been privileged to do.

Love and hugs
Mom

Just Plain Jane said...

The fact that you're concerned about it, is proof that you'll do okay. Our son's first child was born when he was about to turn 50. It's been an amazing thing to watch his method of parenting. There's no one right way. Just be genuine and the whole process will unfold.

Chantelle said...

For some reason ballet instantly came to mind instead of shooting free throws. No idea why - never took ballet myself.

Also, try searching for vegetarian alternatives to fish oil. Let me know if you find some anywhere. I honestly haven't searched for them.

Anonymous said...

You might not like the kid too much in the beginning, but you will love it. That's what bonding is all about. It doesn't happen overnight. The kid might seem like a wailing, pooping baby monkey at first, but you will make a choice to love it now matter what, and as all of you grow together, and you unconsiouly and consiously pass on who and what you are, you will wonder what you ever did without your darling. And when you see flashes of yourself in the kid, you'll be prouder than you ever knew.

Jan

JustMe said...

I don't think there's much instinct to it, but babies are much sturdier than they look and the whole "boot camp" atmosphere of round the clock care gets you up to speed within a week, I'd say.

The most frustrating part for me as a mom was breastfeeding. I had the same feelings: Shouldn't this be natural and easy? But it was not. It took a lot of work, and working to relax so it would work.

Making babies and parenting is God's way of letting us share in the act of creation--how amazing a gift is that. Being a mom is the only thing in life that really matters to me. Once you've had kids, things like going through a car wash, or spotting a ladybug, are just dull and empty without a kid around to make them magical and exciting.

Wishing you all the best.

Challenges for me in re: to your script? Taking off training wheels, converting Transformers, and buying jock straps!

Anonymous said...

I was definitely *not* a "baby person" for most of my life. They made me uncomfortable, and I sensed that they were uncomfortable around me, too. I think it's because we were the youngest on the side of the family we saw the most often. Even little kids...it was like I didn't know what to say to them, how to act around them, what they were thinking. Then, one specific child touched my life and I fell in love with him. At first it was awkward being around him, but honestly that didn't last very long. It was like we got used to each other. I stopped worrying about what to say or think, or what he thought, and I just started being *me* around him. That's when I learned the secret that natural "baby people" know. You just smile, be nice, and be yourself. How ironic it is that now I work with kids every day and keep getting more and more comfortable around them, and am actually good at it (at least I'd like to think so :)! They're kind of like dogs in that they can sense fear/anxiety. They know when you're uncomfortable around them, and that makes them think there's something wrong with them (because they're completely egocentric), which makes them want to avoid you or appear afraid of you. You just have to "fake it 'till you make it" with stranger kids, but with your own, you will be in love already, and I promise it will come to you. It came to me, and I'm eternally grateful to that little boy.

You'll make an awesome father. I just know it :)

-YS

laurowens said...

Dyrs was the same way, he instantly changed when Gianna was born. And Gianna likes you just fine, she will even more when we get to spend more time together. lol.

"Love the life you have." said...

My little Chastity likes you, too. It will just come to you and life is all about not planning once you become a father. Everyting will fall into place.

Anonymous said...

Katie and I are on the same wave length. Kids/babies are like dogs. You said you are an animal person, so you should have no problems. Don't sweat it, Col.

-vz

Chantelle said...

Heard this ad on the radio this weekend and again this morning. Sounds good! My husband thought I was a little crazy paying attention to an ad. I was curious what you ended up with.