My wife and I have always lived a fairly uncomplicated life. We enjoy the simple things – walks in the woods with the dogs, long car rides and nice simple dinners made from scratch with local ingredients, over which we sit and talk about our days. We’ve worked to reduce the clutter in our lives so we can exist, and enjoy just being. When Ashby got pregnant we continued these routines, except with a bit more clutter slowly filling our closets and a few more naps interspersed. Over dinner we would envision what our life with a child would be like, the adventures we would enjoy, and whose traits he would be better off with. Then we’d plop down on the couch and watch part of a movie and go to bed. We would sleep, wake up to an alarm, go to work and start the process all over again. Everyone kept saying to us, “things are going to be different when you have a kid”. They always said it with a slightly evil smile, and went on to explain that we would never again have time to cook nice meals or sit and enjoy each other’s company or brush our teeth.
I always knew that those external things would change, I was ready for that. I was lucky enough to be in the rare club of expecting Dads who could already change an infant’s diaper faster than you can whistle Dixie while simultaneously reading “Good Night Moon” to a restless toddler. I knew we were being a bit naive in thinking that the transition wouldn’t be all that noticeable, but the land of naive is a wonderful place to live.
When we got home things sure were different, but it was more of a shift in routines kind of different than anything else. We still cook nice simple dinners from scratch with local ingredients – only now we trade off baby bouncing and veggie chopping duties. We still sit and enjoy those dinners together, usually while they’re still hot, with Miles bouncing on a knee or swinging beside the table. Although we take the dogs for fewer walks, take fewer car rides, and never have to worry about using an alarm, I wouldn’t say that life is all that different, on the surface. It’s just changed.
What I never put much thought into was the internal change that my son would bring. The warning that your emotional state will never have the same balance again is never tossed out as readily as the other “your life is gonna change”s that experienced parents like to throw your way – all the “oh you won’t have the time, energy, money, freedom, waistline to do this or that.” Now, don’t get me wrong, on some level I knew that I would have some kind of emotional response to bringing another being into my inner circle, but what I didn’t take into account was the ripple effect, how it would end up affecting every aspect of my life.
This ripple effect started very subtly, when Miles was born. From the first instant when the midwife handed him to Ashby, I reached around and he grabbed onto my finger, and I felt a rush of emotion that stayed. It was as if someone opened me up, poured in a large vat of fatherhood and then sealed me back up again. There was no doubt that something big had happened, and that stayed with me. Somehow, though, I still didn’t feel different – I felt suddenly right. It was something that made me feel more like me than I had ever felt before. I wondered if it was just the sleep deprivation or how quickly it all had changed, and I waited, a little nervously, for the “difference” to set in.
It wasn’t until this past weekend at 7:30 am riding alone in my car down I-95 that I realized how different things were. I was on my way to a rugby tournament, my main source of stress relief, after a particularly difficult week at work. Although rugby is something that has always brought me a great deal of joy and satisfaction, that morning the game was an afterthought. What I kept thinking about was how much I missed getting up with Miles at 6:00 on a Saturday morning and tip-toeing out of the bedroom so my wife could get a few extra hours of well deserved sleep; sneaking down to the kitchen, placing Miles in his swing facing out the window, putting on a Lyle Lovett record and then plopping down on the couch with a hot cup of coffee to watch my son swing, staring sleepily out the window and then turning to smile at me. I watch him rock back and forth and back and forth. Then once he is ready for a snack and a snooze we crawl back into bed with Mom and cuddle up. This is now my ideal weekend, far from a rugby match and loud post-game party. My favorite moments these days are a toothless smile, squeaks and coos, and naps with my son curled up on my chest. Now, when I find out that friends are expecting their first child, I look them right in the eye, smile and say, “things are going to be different when you have a kid.”