Tuesday, May 28, 2013

What Parenting Means

In the United States, the end of May generally ushers in a time of unparalleled togetherness. Whether we like it or not, graduations, national holidays, and warm weather lead to parties and backyard barbecues, thus combining to draw back together the fractured circles of family and friends into something nearly resembling community. This past weekend alone took me to six social functions excluding church, and at many of these I clinked plastic cups with the same basic sets of relatives and friends. 

At one such event, I found myself in a backyard at dusk, having stepped outside to avoid the loud chatter and stifling air. This didn't exactly work out as planned, because out back, I found my older brother standing watch over his impressive brood of five children, along with all the cousins, a smattering of grubby-footed neighborhood children, several dogs, and a kitten. Tag, hide-and-go-seek, gymnastics, and jiu jitsu took place simultaneously amidst raucous shouts and barking dogs. Off to the far end of the yard, two of my nieces happily smeared themselves with fistfuls of dirt. Oblivious to most of these antics, my brother calmly fielded calls on his cell phone and chatted with other adults, seemingly ready to ignore all signs of juvenile distress except blood.

Then friends from church showed up with even more small children, and the backyard ranks swelled to start-your-own-child-army proportions. Sound levels rose exponentially. I sipped my drink and waited for signs that the neighbors had called in the National Guard.

Sitting on a patio chair with my cane propped up against one leg, attempting to hear over the din, I looked up at a friend of mine as we chatted. Out of nowhere, her nine-year-old twins caromed around a corner slapped their hands forcefully against her rear end, palms out flat. “I’m first!” one crowed, while the other hotly contested this claim.

Meanwhile, my friend never batted an eye, acting as if being double-hand slapped in the hindquarters hadn’t even happened.

This must be what having children means, I mused. 

Do I mean to say that becoming a parent means losing all feeling to your lower extremities? Not precisely. But I do mean that having children means living out a very different reality from the rest of us.

What Parenting Means:

1. That you become desensitized. Getting double-hand slapped on the rump, being vomited on, allowing toddlers to chew on your shoulder, having your earrings and locks of your hair yanked out of your head by  merciless little fists—parents tend to handle such shenanigans with grace and aplomb.  Unlike me. Because I am not a parent, I have not reached the levels of desensitization required to change a Nuclear Waste Diaper without first donning a hazmat suit. Neither have I reached the level of diffidence required to handle having facial features nearly ripped off by those tiny little baby fingernails without emitting silent sonic screams. I'm just not ready for it.

2. That you must train your eyes to be bigger than your plate. Parents, you understand that everything on your plate is fair game for your children. It is expected of you to offer several bites up in sacrifice to their curiosity; therefore, you must train yourself to go against everything your mother always told you and adjust your serving sizes accordingly. Based on impartial observation, I would recommend increasing your serving size by 5% per child in your care, meaning that if you have four children, you must of necessity take a piece of cake 20% larger than expected. This ensures both that you will have sufficient bites for each of your baby birds and that you will still enough to satisfy your own sweet tooth. You’re welcome.

3. That you will never be alone—ever. Sleeping, showering, making phone calls, using the toilet—these times you once held sacred are sacrosanct no longer. Once children arrive, these once-solitary moments become stressful, quasi-public events fraught with indistinct questions yelled through bathroom doors and worrisome, muffled screams and crashing thuds wafting down hallways and through walls, distracting you from the business at hand.

Such is life, right?

Well, such is life with children. At least, that’s how it appears to an outsider like me.

Then again, perhaps this recounting of what parenting means is incomplete. Because although children may desensitize you, eat all of your food, and suck all of the privacy out of your life, their presence also seems to weave great joy, blessing, and personal growth to the textures of your lives, adding a richness not obtained any other way. 

For that richness, the childless among us tend to envy you.

Until we remind ourselves that we can use the restroom uninterrupted.  

Then we’re okay with it.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

How to Compliment an Ugly Baby

It's happened to all of us.  

A friend pops in front of us unexpectedly, gripping a bundle containing her offspring. She gazes eagerly directly into our faces, anticipating an answering spark of joy and affection as we cast our eyes on the thing in her arms. Sometimes the best we can muster upon spying this remarkably frog-like creature is not to leap back in genuine alarm.  

It's not that I'm opposed to babies. At least, not in theory. As a matter of fact, I happen to believe that the tops of their heads smell divine. But the tops of their heads aren't the problem -- it's what appears directly beneath the tops of their heads that I frequently find alarming. 

That's right. I'm talking about their faces

The sad truth is that barring few exceptions, newborn babies are often very ugly indeed, with their mewling little scrunched up features reddened from crying and dusted with flakes of cradle cap.  

Not that we can ever admit this out loud.  If we were to say what pops into our minds immediately upon spying a newborn, noting that our friend's spawn bears a remarkable resemblance to a cross between Winston Churchill and Smeagol, we'd probably have decidedly fewer friends. This is because admitting that a baby's appearance falls anywhere short of perfection is on par with snatching the baby out of his mother's arms in a misguided attempt to punt him over the moon.  

So learning how to compliment an ugly baby really is in your best interests.

How to Compliment an Ugly Baby:

1. Invest in a good thesaurus. Study synonyms for all baby-related words, ensuring that positively-connotative phrases such as "precious little sugar lump!" and "dear drop of darling delight!" spring smoothly and involuntarily from your lips. Rather than being left to grope about mentally for suitable, non-offensive adjectives, your mouth will take over, delivering beautifully-crafted, pre-prepared compliments that will leave tears in your friend's eyes. Meanwhile, this leaves your mind free to grapple with the internal horror of processing the sheer ugliness of your friend's offspring.

2. Be purposefully obtuse. Even when sporting onesies emblazoned with the legend "IT'S A GIRL!" the general gender ambiguity of most newborns gives you leeway for some seeming confusion. Use this to your advantage, thus:

                  FRIEND: (beaming at you) Well?!?  What do you think??

                  YOU: Oh! He's--she's?--just.... I mean, wait.  Is this a boy or a girl?
                  FRIEND: She's a girl, silly! See? (points to slogan on onesie)
                  YOU: (doofily) Ah, I see. You really should pierce her ears! I had a friend who--

And there you go, launching into a litany of ear-piercing foibles, leaving the conversational track of the child's questionable adorableness in the rearview. Well done, you. 

3. Create a diversion. When all else fails, it's time to cut and run. Based on your friends' respective gullibility levels, a simple pointing ruse ("Look over THERE! What could THAT BE!") may ensure you enough time to dip around the corner and run for your life. Avoiding more keen-witted parents may require the sacrifice of your earthly possessions such as your house or your car for the cause; therefore planting some small explosives in unobtrusive places wired to remote detonators may not go amiss. To some people, such actions may sound extreme, but no sacrifice is to great to keep you from the greatest of all sacrifices--that of the companionship of your friend if you were to admit just how hideous you find his progeny.  

In the end, perhaps we can all be grateful for the tale of the Ugly Duckling, which assures us that no matter how ugly your child may be when he enters the world, there's always the possibility that it may turn out that you've actually birthed a swan instead of a human child. Which might, if you think about it, explain everything.

But that's not actually the point.

The point is that nobody really cares whether or not you think his baby conforms to traditional expectations of beauty. Your friend just wants you to recognize, as he has, that a miracle has taken place, and that he's been allowed to be part of it. 

Because regardless of wrinkled faces, jowly cheeks, asymmetrical nostrils, and flaky skin, each baby encases a soul made in the image of God.

And that's the real beauty of babies. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Why Moving Is Awesome

I believe that change is good. In fact, it think it's so good that I'm on the verge of making some rather large life changes, one of which involves moving. And apparently I'm so addicted to change that I'm going to move not once but twice in the span of two months.

Now, some people don't like moving.  They dread all of the work entailed and the general disruption to daily life.

But me?  I love moving.  It's awesome! And I will tell you why.

Why Moving Is Awesome:

  • You'll be forced to confront your clutter. Teetering violently between the acknowledgement of unparalleled advantage and the anguished shame of a hoarder, you will riffle through the shamble of your possessions in utter bewilderment, contemplating the irony that in the event of a move, an overabundance of blessings actually becomes a curse. Also, forced to answer questions such as "Where did this even come from?" and "Why do we even own four spatulas?" you will have the full meaning of the phrase First World Problems pressed upon you effectively.
  • You'll experience some lively, enforced panic cleaning. Perhaps you've been a bit lax lately in the area of dusting beneath larger items, checking behind the dryer for odd socks, or cleaning your baseboards. Fortunately, moving not only brings these areas to your attention but also compels you to action at top speed, raising your heart rate and lowering your apartment's dust levels at the same time. Win-win! 
  • You have a pass. I've found that "I'm moving" works well as an excuse for almost anything, including (but not limited to) coming to work with wet hair, forgetting meetings/assignments, eating cookies for breakfast, and driving around with a mug full of clean forks in the front seat of your car. Go with it. 
  • You'll be able to spend more time with loved ones. This may sound counterintuitive, but although moves are generally harried times, most people find it impossible to move alone. This is especially true if you decide to break your ankle at a critical point just before the move, which is what I decided to do. While this whole experience has been a bit of a trial, it's also turned into a boon, allowing me to bond with friends and family over dust bunnies, packaging tape, and trash runs. After all, nothing says friendship like dumpster diving for empty cardboard boxes in the mall parking lot.
Sure, moving's a bit of a bother, but when it's done, we're left with less messy clutter and closer bonds with those we love.  

And that, truly, is awesome.