This is an open and very sincere apology to my friends who had kids before I did.
I have to apologize because I know that before I had kids, I did and said some pretty ignorant things to my friends that did have them. I only know this now because our friends without kids occasionally do it to Sally and me. At first this was a real source of frustration, until I realized that I surely did the same, if not worse. That, in turn, leads to this apology.
Dear Friends Who Had Kids Before Me:
I absolutely and sincerely apologize for doing the things to you (or, more likely, saying the things I did to you) before I had kids.
I know that I said things like, “Well, just come out [to the game, bar, club, whatever] anyway. Just get a sitter.” I was well intentioned of course, and just wanted you to be able to come out and enjoy whatever non-parental fun I was having. I didn’t know how hard it is to find a sitter that you trust, actually have them be available at that moment, and/or actually want to go out, when in reality you just wanted to grab what sleep you could before the kiddos woke you up at 6:30 AM (as they would be waking you up, regardless if you did actually join me at the club, and went to bed just a mere three hours prior) with a hearty, and energetic, “Mommy, can we have pancakes today!?!?” And, I know now, that there are few things worse than parenting through a hangover…
I probably said, “Just bring the kids. Just throw them in the car and come on!” on whatever road trip, visit, or excursion that I was suggesting. I had no idea. I didn’t know that ‘just bring the kids’ first meant a mental checklist of things like:
- Have they eaten/nursed, when did they eat, do they need snack now, and what additional snacks should we pack?
- When did they go potty last? Do we have diapers, wipes, and a change of clothes already to go, or do we need to pack it? How long will it take us to get them both/all to go potty before we leave?
- We must pack outfits, toys, books, toiletries, diapers/wipes, nighttime bear or favorite animal, sippy cups, iPod/iPhone/iPad movies or games, secret stash of candy for when things really go south (aka the ‘Bribery Bag’), pacifiers (aka ‘Fire, Ba-ba, Woo-dee, etc.), jackets, individual water bottles, shoes & socks, and on and on and on. Kids at home are tough, but kids on the road are about four times as tough.
I may have said, “Just come to the restaurant. We’ll help take care of them and they’ll probably just fall asleep there.” Actually, I wouldn’t have ever said this one. I was so unfamiliar with kids and so afraid of them that I never would have even offered to help take care of a baby, toddler, or preschooler. (At least then I was being honest.) I’ve now seen many a friend offer to do this, but then ‘take care’ of our kid for 3-4 minutes, get bored when they can’t understand them and then go back to eating, talking, and drinking.
My ‘favorite’ was when said friend who had offered to help would just completely stop ‘taking care’ of the kid and hand them right back to us once the food arrived. This situation then sticks the actual parents with kids at a restaurant (often chosen without regard to kid menu options), past their bedtime, getting cranky, and generally fussy and irritable for all. So, the dinner out ‘with friends’ (that you hardly get to talk to, since you're busy with the kids) is actually then much harder, more challenging, and just simply more difficult regardless of how many non-parental friends are there ‘to help’. (Plus, being out is also then keeping the kidlets up past their bedtime, especially as they never fall asleep when you want them too and certainly never according to any far-fetched hope to ‘have them fall asleep on your lap.' And this means that you, the parents, also get to deal with them being cranky, annoying, and generally a pain all the next day because they never got enough sleep.)
I’m sure I said (because I usually do), “C’mon, just one more beer. You don’t have to leave right now. Just one more, it’s just 20 more minutes.” I didn’t know that with little ones, ‘the schedule’ is a god never to be trifled with. The kids need enough sleep each night or else your next day is just a hellish, pain in the rump, ass-dragging kind of day of fighting, grumpiness, more ‘accidents’, and just a cascading hell of kids falling apart. I didn’t know this back then because I had never had to deal with those kinds of repercussions. (And of course, multiply that 'next day' pain times about 20 if you were hung-over.)
I would have never seen this need to apologize if I hadn’t had kids myself. Because I would have just toodled along, obliviously thinking my life was ‘busy’ and ‘stressful’ and ‘hard’ (which it was, in its way, but I dream, I absolutely covet having such days back now). But it took having kids to see and hear things from my friends to make me realize that I had make the exact same mistakes before my kids came along.
Some favorite examples of things we hear from kid-less friends that we just chuckle about now:
- “OMG, my life is just so CRAZY right now!” – You know, it is and we certainly get that, as ours was too. But unless you are CEO of a company or maybe an ER doctor, this one becomes kind of laughable when you say this to the parent of little ones. Our favorite was a friend who once went on ad nauseum about how ‘crazy’ her life was because she’d just gotten a dog. At the time, we had a toddler, a newborn, two dogs and a cat. We just let her talk and talk and talk about her ‘crazy’ life, then moved on to someone else at the party.
- “Well, just bring the kids and just fly out here!” – We’d love to, really, but please see the list, an abbreviated one mind you, of just what it takes to get a kid ready to travel in a car. Now add in things like getting kids through airport security, dealing with airport bathrooms and finding food kids will eat there, then fussy/tired/grumpy kids strapped into airplane seats (and getting more fussy/tired/grumpy because they don’t understand that – at times – they absolutely cannot get OUT of that airplane seat), then add hauling car seats in/out of cabs or a friends car… And again, that’s just a short list. (And note that while kids in cars are four times as hard as usual, kids in airplanes is about seven times harder than usual.) Oh, and let’s not forget that now “just bring the kids” means buying four plane tickets instead of one or two, and the fact that a friend’s non-kid house has not been kid-proofed one iota.
- “I won’t let being a parent change me. I will still [add in ‘rock climb’, ‘go to Red Sox games’, ‘play in my band’, ‘be active in my Civil War re-creation unit’, or other formerly fun activity here].” – Yeah... no you won’t. I’ve seen some couples do this (one couple rock climbing with friends in Colorado with a newborn in a little portable crib at the base of the climb sticks out), but these Uber Parents are few and far between (and generally only have one kid). What you really do is just attempt to try to squeeze in one or two of your favorite activities per year, if you are lucky, and then you should just be happy that you were able to keep your toe in whatever activity it was at all. Now, we have heard occasionally of one parent (never both) who adamantly continues to ski, hunt, go to sporting events, etc. at the same frequency and duration as before they had kids. While some might congratulate this parent on ‘having it all’, I’d describe a parent like that as an uncaring jackass who shouldn’t have had kids in the first place. The kid comes first, and you are third (after your spouse, who comes in second… actually, you may actually only come in fourth as now also taking care of your kids’ and spouse’s house also takes precedence), so deal. You’ll get to get back to competitive skeet shooting and the local biathlon club when they’re older (although how much older, I can't say as my kiddos aren't quite there yet).
- “I won’t ever let my kids do…” or “My kids will start [activity of choice] by the time they are [ridiculously young year]” – These ones are fun. Now, I first – and again – admit I was totally ignorant here too. My kids were going to be up on skis by age four, reading on their own by five, and also learning Spanish or French by now. All that you had to do, I ‘knew’ was to start early, be consistent, and ‘just do it’! Yeah, not so much. As Sally and I joke sometimes, ‘Are the kids fed? Clothed? Alive? Then they’re fine.’ It’s a joke but it also shows how much time and effort that just the basics of taking care of a kid take. There is rarely, if ever, much time for anything more than that. (We heard one comment just this past weekend BTW, where one of Sally’s younger relatives stated their kid would be playing piano by age four. Maybe so, and I certainly hope that’s true, but the odds are against it. And, bottom line, it's absolutely okay if it just doesn't happen.)
- “Start a daddy blog!” – Okay, so this one was actually much appreciated and, obviously worked. But all the sincere, well-intentioned, caring people that suggested this (people that I appreciate and thank mind you!) were all people without kids. I tried to explain the whole lack of time thing, but again: you just don’t know what it’s like until you’ve walked in these barf-covered shoes. But, they all did play on my need/desire to keep doing something to write and to them I’m very thankful for pushing me. And so I try to think up or jot down little stories or quips like this on airplane flights, in the shower, or at 5:12 AM as the girls slumber on. But, like all the trials and tribulations of fatherhood itself, I’m loving it... it’s a good pain.