I Am Not a Parent
I am not a parent.
In a way it would be appropriate to say that I am not a parent YET. As of this writing (at least its first draft), I’m sitting in a hospital lobby, next to our dozing doula, clacking away on my laptop. Willpower, worry, five hour energy shots, over-exhaustion, the adrenaline that is fireballing through my veins, and that special kind of flaring stupidity that affects first timers prevents me from dozing as well. Somewhere above me, my partner is in a triage room—I will be texted a room number as soon as they have one. I am resisting an urge to flip tables and do Matrix-style, frozen-cam kicks on innocent receptionists who allow only one guest in triage.
After an unsuccessful attempt at a home birth, we made an utterly wrenching decision to transfer to the hospital, so that our exhausted and dehydrated mama could get an epidural and some sleep that she might have the strength to push in a few hours.
As the throng of newly-accepted Grounded Parent bloggers filled up the backchannel with jokes of scrotum avatars and penis guns (no, I’m not kidding), one of the trending topics was an extensive list from many of the writers about all the articles they were going to be writing in the coming weeks and months. Some parents had ten, fifteen, even twenty or more topics already percolating within their fecund brains. Years of stored rants, decisions made only after grueling all-nighters, extensive mulling over social issues, and multiple children’s worth of wisdom to dispense on the blogosphere.
“I have a seventy-five part series planned,” one said. “I’ve trimmed it down from a hundred and thirty-two for the sake of brevity. After that I’ll have to fall back on the forty-five or so topics I have for individual articles until I can think of another series. But that’s just what I’ve come up with since 2:30, so I’m hopeful that I can think of some more.”
I looked at the clock; it was 3:07.
I have no such list in my head. It is crammed full of literary analysis of Skyrim and ideas for how sneak around the a-holes in Dishonored. Its storage spaces are stacked with a metric buttload of books and no small number of movies. There’s even a creative writing degree in there somewhere, but it’s buried under a year’s worth of Facebook grammar macros and FFM porn (all totally tasteful, pinkie swear).
Basically, though, I have no idea what is about to happen to me. No fricking clue. Will Tom be colicky? Will he be bullied? Will avoiding gendered gifts really be a big deal or will family get the hang of it pretty quickly? Will some antivaxxer get into my face about “mercury” and provoke the sort of reaction where I encourage recreational hippy hunting in order to protect herd immunity? Will my multi-part opus be about the typical progressive’s love/hate relationship with Disney or more along the line of sure fire ways to avoid getting peed on? Will my biggest controversies be who could win in a fight between Catrine DeMew and Iron Man’s remote control left hand. I don’t have a long list of issues that I can flip seamlessly into a “ten-things” blog post.
I’ve never even changed a diaper.
Now it is thirty-six hours later but I am still not a parent. Not exactly. Renee has had an emergency c-section and is in the recovery room on three different antibiotics. Baby Tom is sleeping in NICU, and has half a dozen Borg implants that are assimilating him into the collective. Everybody seems okay, but the nurses won’t answer my questions about Tom’s condition even after I assure them that I am quite capable of doing a freeze-frame Matrix kick to their eyeball. Not until a British guy named Will comes in and asks the exact same questions.
You see, Tom is not my son.
I will raise Tom…or at least have a huge hand in raising him….but I will never be his father.
I live with Renee and Will. We are polyamorous (in a relationship that is often called a “V”). Renee and Will are married. Renee and I have some non-legal title like “life partners” or “domestic paramours” or something entirely sterile and clinical sounding. It’s all very obnoxious and complicated when you try to label it, but works with remarkable ease and lack of drama up close and personal. Will and I have no relationship other than friendship. In fact, we both recoil like vampires from crosses at the sight of the other’s bare chest.
Tom is their son. (I had three disappointing months of sex with condoms, so he fucking better be.) I am, and will be, Uncle Chris. Or Niño. Or possibly even “papa” some day—the verdict is still out on that one. But whatever label we settle on, I’m going to end up at some Back To School Night having an awkward conversation one of these days. (“No, please just hear me out before you call the cops…”) I know there are diaper changes and band-aids and emergency room visits in my future, but I am not a parent.
However, in that lack of definitive title there exists an apt metaphor. (And since my creative writing degree isn’t useful for much else, I use it to find apt metaphors in everything.) When Renee and Will asked me if I wanted to be a co-parent, I said I wasn’t ready. I was just starting to try my hand at creative writing, and I had watched too many burgeoning writing careers ended by the arrival of kids. “Maybe in three to five years,” I said. “But to be honest, kids might be something I’ve decided to give up for writing.”
I am into “hella” deep sacrifices like that. I like to say “I gave that up…(then pause dramatically)…for writing.” It works best if at that exact moment, I can whip up a single tear to slide down my cheek.
Renee and Will started trying to get pregnant later that week. I don’t resent them. Well, I sort of resent their choice to do it loudly while I was watching Doctor Who downstairs, but that’s what the volume button is for. But I’ve known too many women who wait too long and then can’t have kids. They made a good choice. They just made it without me.
That means even though I live with them and I’m going to be in a house with a child, I also get to have my boundaries. Of course, I’m going to end up changing diapers, talking to teachers about Tom’s “potential,” and even running red lights on the way to the emergency room for what turns out to be gas. But I also get to demand a full night’s sleep, maintain a social life, and say “go ask your parents” when Tom wants to know why Mr. Pickles stopped moving. So like the title I shall be bequeathed, that’s something we haven’t exactly worked out.
We’ve already begun to discover there aren’t any easy answers. I can’t just say “twenty hours a week” and at twenty hours and ONE second I will walk away with middle fingers raised high chanting “Nope!” Last week when Renee needed help with the gagillionth pre-natal visit to the obstogynodoctortricianocologist, my reaction was, “Gee, that sounds like a dad problem…Dad,” and I stayed home doing important shit like playing tower defense games on my iPad with Original Flavor Bugles Snack Food on the tips of each of each finger. On the other hand, I got six hours of sleep during an eighty hour labor and then sent Will home to get some rest and a shower while I wheeled Renee over to NICU every two hours and tried to doze between. There aren’t really hard caps or clear lines.
Plus I’ve been led to believe that babies’ have aesthetically appealing eye to head ratios, and that the frequency of their cries can be somewhat difficult to ignore when they want something. I’ve had this growing “that’s-not-a-moon” suspicion that enforcing my boundaries—even defining my boundaries—might require a lot of thought and energy when confronted with life altering cuteness.
Of course, my insights—and missteps—may be useful to many who reside within the thick, tangled (often convoluted) webs of relationships that form around children when poly people start having babies. I know one young man clocking in at 15 “uncles” and 19 “aunts.” But my relationship can also be a metaphor (trust me folks, if I don’t find half a dozen metaphors a day, I cry myself to sleep, questioning all my life choices).Though the nuclear family gets a lot of airplay, I’ve seen those guys up close and many of them have a thousand yard stare and a prescription bottle clutched in their hands for the first eighteen years or so. There are a lot of “Uncle Chris’s” out there making parenting easier for their loved ones. Close friends of the family, grandparents, and maybe even actual aunts and uncles—people who want to help, but also have to deal with the guilt and lack of certainty and feeling of mercenary callousness when it’s time to say no.
So this is who I will be here on Grounded Parent. I don’t know what I’m going to be blogging about. I don’t know what the challenges will be. I will likely be writing a little more real-time and “raw and unrefined” than my colleagues who’ve had more time to assimilate their experiences. I’ll be a little more stream-of-consciousness and a little less “didactic life lesson” as I try to do the very best for Tom without losing myself in the process. I don’t have the slightest clue what I am doing, but I’m also open to the endless possibilities. And I kind of can’t wait to meet this kid, and tell you all about him.
It is now five days later. We are all home. Everyone is okay and because of Uncle Chris we’re all even getting six and seven hours of sleep (though for mom that total is in shifts). I look into Tom’s face—his tiny, blotchy, peeling face—and every cliche that “nothing will ever be the same” looks back at me.
I am not a parent.
Or maybe I am.
Should be an interesting ride trying to figure it out.