By John Shertzer
I swore it would never happen. I was going to be a different kind of parent. I wasn’t going to be the kind of parent whose house was covered top to bottom with multi-colored plastic noise-making toys. I wasn’t going to be the kind that let my child cry or make noise in church. I definitely wasn’t going to have any evidence of child-rearing on my car. I scoffed at parents whose children threw tantrums in restaurants. I wasn’t going to be like them. Walking in stores past racks of clothing covered in butterflies, puppies, and teddy bears, I would wonder who dresses their child in stuff like that.
I was going to be the ultra-cool dad who you could barely tell was a parent. I was going to bring our son into our world, instead of letting him take over ours. I would watch the commercials on TV that said, “having a baby changes everything” and promise myself that it wouldn’t happen to me. My shirts weren’t going to be stained with sweet potatoes or plums. The floor beneath my son’s high chair was going to be spotless. We would play with one toy at a time and hide the rest away in a designer toy chest that matched the rest of our furniture. I had it all planned out.
That maybe worked for a week. My house is covered in all sorts of toys, and we don’t even pick them up when guests come over. My car was adorned with a Winnie the Pooh shade on the window. I now wait until my son is REALLY wailing before I go to the cry room at church. There’s baby food all over our clothes, our floor, and our dog. My wife and I sat back and watched our world slowly get eclipsed by a little man who couldn’t even wipe his own butt.
Our lives before children are easy to control. We can decorate our house the way we want to. We can control cleanliness. We can tend to our image. We have the luxury to spend time worrying about what other people think of us. It’s a different kind of life, and it used to be the kind of life I thought was the best. I was wrong. It was a life consumed by image and impressions of how I thought I should live. You see and envy the sharply dressed couple at dinner, enjoying the quietness of a peaceful meal as they sip wine and eat a 3-course dinner. You see and pity the family sitting next to them, with the screaming toddler trying to pry himself out of his high chair while the parents gulp down their food quickly before the kid starts launching dinner rolls into the air. Which scene is perceived as the ideal? Why would I want the life of the erratic parent, when I could have the life of the well-groomed socialite?
Having a baby does change everything. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
The fact of the matter is that as soon as your child is born, your life is no longer your own. Your house is no longer your own. Neither are your cars, clothes, pets, or furniture. What I’ve learned, however, is that a life that you share is better than a life that you own. A funny and liberating thing happens when you have a child. You no longer care so much about what others think of you. You become proud of the life you’re providing for your child – bulky and annoying toys included. You don’t mind that stain on your shirt, because it gives you a chance to talk about your son or daughter. Being a parent is a privilege and a gift. It may be a less clean, comfortable, or organized life. But, it’s a beautiful one.
I refuse, however, to be the kind of parent that drives a minivan.