18 May 2012

Eight or Higher, Bro

In this week’s season finale of How I Met Your Mother, new parents Marshall and Lily found themselves having to draw a line in the sand with their single, childless (and slightly self-involved) friend, Ted. While tending to their newborn, Marvin Wait For It (aka, best middle name ever) Erikson, they had to explain to Ted that they were now in charge of a human life and could not handle his issues, unless they rated an eight or higher on a scale of importance.

At the time, he was trying to figure out how to respond to a text he’d received from a girl he just met. The more Ted tried to elicit advice about this non-situation, the more Marshall repeated the phrase, “Eight or higher, bro. Eight or higher, bro.”

It was funny. It also got me thinking. About what separates us now, those of us with children and those without. It really is a thing you cannot explain.

I’ll admit, this must look crazy at times (or all the time) to someone on the outside. You’re exhausted, always. Not just physically. Mentally. Emotionally. Just drained. There's not much room left in your brain for other stuff. You try not to fall behind. To maintain communication and friendships and everything else. And you fail. Because you're responsible for another human life. It’s not just a time management issue. I mean, you try to approach it that way. But you can’t.

Because, again, you’re responsible for a human life. We are keeping them alive. Every minute of every day there is that one goal: Make sure that they keep breathing. That’s a heavy responsibility. This entity’s entire well-being and survival is based solely on my ability to not drop the ball. That’s a lot of pressure. There is nothing else like it. And if you’re already a person susceptible to anxiety, it only gets worse. Every waking moment is a potential horror show.

And really, you brought this all upon yourself.

When news came recently that a friend was expecting their third child, we predictably expressed complete and utter bafflement as to how one would approach and manage such a situation.

“Are we just not good at this?” my wife wondered aloud.

I did not respond.

But it got me thinking. Maybe we’re not. Maybe we have no business being parents. If we can’t maintain contact with our friends, if we can’t go about our lives and be ourselves and not just completely fall to pieces and accomplish absolutely nothing except for merely keeping our progeny alive, then perhaps we aren’t cut out for this racket?

Of course, we are routinely presented with examples of parenting worse than our own. On a recent trip to the farm with the Doozer’s preschool, I spotted the rotten apples mere moments after arrival. They inevitably acted out and time after time, parents expressed surprise and disbelief about their behavior. Really? I kept thinking. Really? I could tell your kid was a little shit the moment I laid eyes on him and now you’re acting like he’s never done this before? Right. Nice parenting.

And also, thank you for making me feel just slightly better about myself. At least momentarily.

Of course, I’m sleep-deprived. So you could easily dismiss all this as the lunatic ramblings of an overtired, stressed-out, growing-dumber-by-the-moment parent of a newborn. Overly tired and seriously hopped-up on coffee. Desperately attempting to crawl out of the black hole that is the experience of being the parent of a newborn child.

So, I'm sorry if I forgot your birthday, or haven’t called you back in a while, or generally seem to have dropped off the face of the earth. I’m a jerk. Granted. But I’m also a parent. Which is not to suggest that I’m better than you if you’re not. Not at all. Dumber than you, perhaps. For having chosen this path. Who knows. Time will tell.

Now let me go check if those kids are still breathing . . .

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