My family doesn’t talk about Tom to other parents much.
Well, that’s not exactly true. We are all pretty much nuts about him and we talk about him as often as we can. My iPhone photos are the modern-day equivalent of the cascade of baby pictures that would come tumbling out of a proud parent’s wallet—except that on my iPhone, I can store about twenty wallets’ worth of pictures without my back pocket bulging visibly backward with the noticeable stigmata of the newly-childed.
But we do steer clear of certain topics.
Renee can’t really talk much about her pregnancy. Outside of a small group of very close friends, she gets a lot of resentment for not having had morning sickness or aching joints, or just a little more weight gain or a little less comfort. She pretty much had a great pregnancy, filled with happiness and beaming and all that glowing shit. And it made other moms and pregnant women very resentful. Not jokingly, amusingly, twinkle-in-the-eye-and-a-smirk-when-they-tell-you-to-fuck-off resentful, but really, genuinely, acid-voiced, biting-on-tinfoil resentful. She has to stick with the disappointment of Tom’s birth story in order to avoid enraging other mothers.
It’s not like Renee runs around singing Disney songs about the joys of being pregnant. She would just tell people her feet hadn’t swelled that much and they would almost immediately start to get testy. In one case, during a round robin of morning sickness stories, Renee was relaying how she experienced some acid reflux and nausea, but she had never actually thrown up, and then a mother-of-three actually lifted her hand to cut Renee off and snapped, “You know, I just can’t even listen to this.”
We also steer clear of the subject of how (relatively) easy Tom has been post-partum. The fact is that he’s a darned good baby—sleeping through the night after only six weeks—and we’ve got three adults sharing the work load, which means that after the first month, most everyone was getting six to eight hours of sleep and even enjoying their social lives again. If Renee or William deign to say how grateful they are have an extra set of hands living in the house with them, they often get a curt reminder that not everyone has such resources.
It’s not like you have to gush about it or rub it in to get these reactions either. I once took Tom out in his carrier to get myself some lunch and I ran into a new dad working at a sandwich place who started asking me questions about how little sleep I was getting.
“Oh, I’m not Tom’s dad, so I get eight hours” I said. “But Mom and Dad are doing okay too.”
“Can’t be more than four or five,” the sandwich-maker pressed.
“Usually it’s seven or eight,” I said. “Sometimes it’s a little less if Tom has a rough night. But if they really need more sleep in the morning, they bring him to me when he wakes up. I get to play with him at his happiest time of the day, and they get a couple more hours of sleep. Win-win.”
He honestly looked like I’d told him that I gunned down both his grandmothers in cold blood. “Well, don’t they just have it made.”
Then there are the doom-and-gloomers. Folks who can’t let any mention of how easy Tom has been slide by without making sure we are absolutely clear that this is nothing more than a temporary setback on our descent into hell. “Oh, wait until solid foods, then you’ll see some really epic shit that will make you wish one of you had never been born!” “Oh, wait until he’s teething, then you’ll never sleep again.” “Oh, you think this is bad? Wait until he knocks up the bishop’s daughter and gets arrested with five kilos of Columbian Gold, because THAT’S when parenting really sucks!”
Ironically, if there is a place where raising kids is tough, other parents seem eager to one-up the experience. Not in a commiserating, just-trading-stories way, but with that definite “story-topping” vibe that you get off of that one friend that everyone seems to have. I was talking to a pair of couples about how when Renee leaves, sometimes Tom is just inconsolable for as long as an hour and has to be walked around in his carrier. The replies were like something from that Monty Python skit: “Oh, at least you can get him settled with a carrier. I once had to walk for three hours with a screaming baby in my hand.” “Three hours? That’s nothing. When Billy was teething, he once went on tear for five hours straight.” “Oh wait until they get sick as toddlers—five hours would have been like a vacation….”
It’s not as if “easy” isn’t relative. We don’t awaken to Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite no. 1 and commune with the bluebirds before a soft morning of exchanging adoring stares and baby giggles while we munch upon a gentle breakfast of fresh fruits and nuts and lazily read the paper. He’s still a baby. He poops…a lot. He cries when he’s hungry, he wails when he’s wet, he screams when he’s tired, and sometimes he yells his head off until you’re walking him around the block at four in the morning. He’s kicked me in the chin hard enough to rock my dental work, and I recently underwent a horror best described as an “ongoing, triple-diaper, blow-out ‘event.’ ” It’s not as if he’s doing the dishes and leaving me with a lot of free time to play The Last of Us. He just happens to also be sleeping through the night, smiling like crazy in the mornings, and being generally content once he’s fed and changed.
To be blunt, I’m not sure why it is so chic to simultaneously resent someone for not having suffered enough but also want to beat them in the suffer-lympics. I’m new at the whole parent-thing, and I’m just an “uncle,” so maybe I’m missing something. This thin “Goldilocks zone” of suffering in which genuine commiserating is actually possible doesn’t seem to show up in any other aspect of life. Most of the time people just congratulate good fortune and sympathize with bad. Dire warnings of the horrors to come have not become so fashionable—rather, it would be quite rude to say to anyone who is having a good day, “Don’t worry. It won’t last, loser!” I’m a bit confused as to why suddenly, when it comes to parents, folks lose their ability to be happy for a mother who doesn’t have mangled nipples, a father without the thousand yard stare of the sleep-deprived, or anyone who is just having a less-than-apocalyptic life right now.
[Featured image credit: Josh Jansse]