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.