Janeane Garofalo had a great joke in a recent standup about a friend who'd become insufferable since becoming a parent. I'm paraphrasing here, but Garafalo's friend said something like, "You know what, now that I've had a baby, I finally get it — it's not all about ME anymore." Garafalo's response: "You're just now getting that? It's not all about YOU, now it's just all about something MADE OF YOU?" Funny, except the best thing about a baby in my opinion is that it is made of you, but it is, decidedly, not you. What a relief.
If your baby was like you it would sit around drinking too much coffee reading dusty websites that document the unraveling of Sid and Nancy's relationship from old scanned-in newspaper clippings. It would overthink stuff, have the bad habit of rolling its eyes a lot and would listen to that one song too many times because it tends to get OCD about certain pop songs.
No, what your baby is, if you're paying attention, is a fresh start, a chance for you to see if you could take all your perfectly decent raw materials, add them to someone else's perfectly decent raw materials and shape something that bears no emotional resemblance to Lindsay Lohan. It's a do-over, a try it now, a 'mon back with the benefit of hindsight. It's a work of art. Maybe it's the new Cubism, or maybe it's just another velvet dog painting.
This is both incredibly indulgent and humbling. I think the humbling part is what the outsider must not see, because all they hear is you yapping about how great your kid is or bitching about how hard it is to parent (I am not innocent of this; I am aware of what my columns are about!). You know, as opposed to before, where all you did was yap about how great YOU are. And that was preferable?
It's the STFU Parents syndrome: Boast too much about your kid, and you're an asshole. Complain too much about the downside and you're an asshole. Win-win for Tumblr sites everywhere, not so much for those of us actually trying to figure how much we are allowed to talk about something that now affects 99% of our waking life. Also, I don't think you single childless people know what you want anyway. You're always changing your mind about when it's ok for people to talk about this stuff. I think you all should probably at least meet up and get your story straight, but you'd probably just get drunk and end up having ill-advised, unprotected sex and want to TELL EVERYONE ABOUT IT.
But back to me! Recently, there was a period of time where my baby was teething every single night and we were getting no sleep and going into work exhausted and the baby was also intermittently getting fevers every other week at daycare because she'd just started daycare, and we were having to take turns picking her up and staying home and it was just the crunchiest of crunchy times in our very brief parenting life so far.
Yes, we knew we'd signed up for crunchy, and we were getting some fucking hard granola. We had a sense of humor about it, but it was the kind where we acknowledged the shittiness, not the other kind, where you pretend your life is perfect until you grow a tumor.
So when I was asked about the apparent lack of sleep at work, apparently I made the mistake of answering honestly — something to the effect of how brutal the last few weeks had been. The response: "Whoa man, you make it sound like your baby ruined your life."
In the sound byte of time allowed for humans to actually talk to each other in real-life settings such as jobs, what are the odds that you can convey the full range of the parenting experience to a childless person in such a way that everyone around you can get that you definitely don't think your kid is special in the annoying way, but that you definitely love your kid in the normal way that means you're probably gonna think it's pretty special, but that it's hard to be a parent, but that it's not so hard that you're being a martyr about it, but that it's also awesome, but that you feel like people could use more help and planning and better networks for child-rearing, but that you're definitely not complaining as if you're some kind of victim, but that you definitely chose to be a parent and could have chosen not to, but that it's super rewarding, but that it also doesn't mean that you're not allowed to say it's really extra fucking hard?
Have you ever noticed that none of this APPLIES TO PEOPLE WHO HAVE OR JUST LOVE DOGS?! (Quick Google search to see if something like STFU Dog Owners exists. It does; whew.)
But seriously, is there a word for all that? This beautiful but sometimes awful thing that parenting is and the nuance it involves? It's beautiful-awful. It's beauty-falafel.
But hey, since I complained too much already, lemme balance the scales here: My baby is, indeed and quite humbly, the greatest fucking baby.
Being with my 18-month-old baby is like hanging out all day with someone who doesn't know anything about the way the world works or what things are for, except unlike a lot of middle class white people I know from the suburbs, in this case it's adorable.
Sometimes she just looks at something and says, "Hmmmmm," like she's thinking it over. Unicorn flower glitter heart-melter, activate: Baby comes alive!
Once I asked her could she please go to go to her room and grab a diaper because mommy was feeling very lazy and baby needed her diaper changed and could she go get a diaper and bring it to mommy? And she fuckin' did it!
In the morning when my baby wakes up she turns away, then swings her head around really fast with a big goofy smile and then laughs hysterically, and it's as if a row of magical just-warmed Pop Tarts appeared in all different tastes in the air, ripe for the plucking.
Unlike any babies I've ever heard about, she can say eight words. To watch a baby go from no words at ALL to even one word, like cracker, even if they say it like "KROCK-ER" and use it to refer to all forms of food, is like better than all the times that I drank exactly four beers at the right pace on a Friday night in good jeans with perfect weather and a new favorite pop song and with the perfect smoky eyeshadow while at the best performance of my favorite new band that only 70 people attended.
Sigh. It's just hard to explain till it happens directly to you. It's mostly everyone else's and the Internet's fault, really. But shit, you guys, the baby! The baby is like some little magical fairy baby just flying around entertaining you while you wait in a long line like that funny pig in those Kids in the Hall skits.
It's like, if I could tell all my friends who still mostly just get fucked up a lot that they should all get babies, I still would. I was like, the last one to know. But now that I do know, it's like I can't even remember why I ever said I didn't want babies.
Oh right, ha, it was how everybody else was about their babies. I was all, come on, guys, babies are great and stuff but there's tons of babies. Can any of them really be all that special?
In a word, yes. Especially if that baby was born to me.
Tracy Moore is a writer in Los Angeles. She actually does want to hear about all of your ill-advised sexual misadventures, just not today.
Image via Hudyma Natallia/Shutterstock.