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.
What a lucky kid to have 3 (2.5?) parents that love him. Almost everything I know about polyamory I know from some very old school Mormon friends. Seeing it from a secular perspective is fascinating!
So my thought is that that was probably exclusively men with multiple wives, right? I think most of the poly community not only usually does things quite differently, but also really takes pains to separate themselves from polygamous marriage.
Congratulations. I look forward to reading about your new adventure in maybe-parenting.
I am not (and never will be) a parent. But growing up I had some experience in having a third guardian/parent at home. In my case, my grandfather. We lived together starting at age four until his death to cancer when I was twelve.
I have no idea if he would have been comfortable calling himself a parent, but it’s how I related to him. He did the same kind of caretaking as my parents and I loved him every bit as much as my mother and father. It didn’t matter that I called him Grandpa because my relationship was much closer to dad than grandfather. I had lots of other grandparents (really, I had extras like my ex-step-great-grandparents) but none of them came close to the bond I had with Grandpa Bruce, my third parent.
I can only imagine how complicated it will be figuring out your role and boundaries, but I suspect you’ll find Tom himself will start shaping your lives as he grows up. I know I did and I feel so lucky to have had that relationship. I think Tom is lucky too.
Thanks for sharing. I had my grandparents too when I was really little, so even though I ended up moving away with my mom and a step-father, I was always very close to them.
This is great! As the live-in girlfriend of a man with kids, I’m not technically a stepmom but I play one a few times a week, and it sounds like your posts on figuring out roles and boundaries will be helpful to me even if it’s a different set-up. 🙂
I hope so! I imagine many of the feelings will be very similar.
Chris, this is just beautiful. Thank you for sharing your story and I’m really looking forward to more of your journey. It’s definitely not a moon, but maybe not quite a space station?
Like maybe a moon with a lunar base? :-p Thank YOU so much for your words.
There can never be too many people who love a child (if they respect roles and boundaries)
Yeah, we haven’t reached the toe stepping yet. I’m guessing that my posts might start to be tinged with such things if I’m still blogging here in a couple of years.
And thank you! He’s SOOOOOO cute!!!!
Aren’t they all? Well, actually I think that newborns are ugly. Unless they’re mine or those of friends. 😉
I guess you’re not the person who tells the new mum if or how to breastfeed.
One rule we have to avoid the toe-stepping is that you can discuss my parenting and my decisions with me, but not in front of the children. We don’t always agree. Sometimes either of us does something the other one thinks is wrong. But the decision still stands and if we agree that it was a bad one the person who made the decision changes it and communicates the change.
I’m looking forward to reading more about your family. 🙂
Thank you so much. I completely adored YOUR first post as well!
This is an awesome post! I am really looking forward to hearing more from you. Your situation is, well if not unique, certainly fascinating. I also love your writing style. As a creative writing minor, I have a great appreciation for metaphors! Being a theater arts major, I can also appreciate the drama that enhances your writing.
I do have one bit of advice for you: There are no, and I mean NO, sure fire ways to avoid getting peed on. Trust me on this one.
I must try! I MUST!!
As a poly person who plans on having one or more kids, potentially with one or more partners in future, I am happy to see this here and look forward to more.
I hope it can help–even if it’s just help you avoid the same mistakes. Hey I noticed your profile, and I’ll be really interested to see your skeptics guide when you’re done. Here’s something I wrote about leaving Islam myself on my other bloghttp://chrisbrecheen.blogspot.com/2013/12/why-i-left-islam.html
I’m very interested in what you have to say on the matter. Maybe you can drop me a comment when it’s posted.
Thank you for this post! I look forward to your real-time poly family input.
I’m also not a parent, in very much the same way as you. My boyfriend’s son (who shall be known here as Pickle) is 6 and I have been not-his-parent for nearly 4 years. I have tucked him into bed many times, helped him do homework, cared for and comforted him after he closed his thumb in my car door (one of the worst moments of either of our lives), and loved him intensely through it all. He is both one of my most favorite people on the planet and occasionally one of the most obnoxious. True love is saying “don’t throw things in the kitchen” a thousand times and still wanting them to live through the evening.
Your challenges and joys will probably be different than mine, but I hope that you get as much joy from helping raise Tom as I do from helping raise Pickle. You’re right that nothing will ever be the same. If you’re anything like me you’ll also come to believe that you would not want things to go back to how they were for anything.
Pickle sounds like a handful, but I certainly hope I do half as right by Tom as it sounds like you do. 🙂
So good. I too am very much looking forward to your future posts. Best of luck and congratulations.
Thank you. And I’m sure I’ll need that luck, so thank you for that too!
At some doctor visit where I looked like a month-old zombie and my two-hours-earlier-dying-from-everything daughter was running around the doctor’s office, cheerfully trying climb into Dr. Martha’s lap, the doctor (a true General Practitioner, a dying breed) said, “You know, both kids and parents fare better when there’s a ratio of 2.5 parents for each child. It really does take a village to raise a child if the parents want to stay sane.”
At the best of times, there were 1.75 parents for my daughter. Some days, even *I* wasn’t all there. I say kudos to you, As Yet Untitled Chris! Little Tom is lucky to have you in his life. He’s certainly going to grow up with a healthy appreciation for puns!
Being a parent was the best vocation I could ever imagine… it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, too. (NaNoWriMo? Pffft. Bring it.) My only regret is that it ended much too soon.
One of Your Muses
~waves~ Hi Kelly!!! All the nuclear families in our lives are sort of shocked that we’ve gotten enough sleep and the house is still clean. I think 2.5-3 really might be the only way to fly.
Chris I enjoy your posts! I look forward to all your future posts. Be comfortable with your choices and who you are because you are awesome. You are rocking the “uncle Chris” title by the way.
Thank you so much. I actually really appreciate this.