What they don’t tell you about parenting…
is that one night everything will go perfectly, the boys will eat their dinner without complaint–with compliments!–and offer almost no protest at bedtime. You will pour a glass of wine, sit down to watch the news, and settle in to an overstuffed couch for some overdue, mindless rest.
What is not in “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” is that just a few sips into that wine, there will come an ominously definitive thud from the floor above. It’s not one of those noises that makes an over-imaginative mother ask, “Did you hear that?” It’s a horrific, full boom that elicits profanity from any adult in earshot. The wine is forgotten. The banal coverage of the political convention drones on in an ironic soundtrack to your sprint.The dog barks at nothing. At the top of the stairs, you and your spouse converge with the older boy who is already looking for his clothes because he knows it’s time to go to the emergency room. The thud told that much of a story.
What “Parenting” magazine doesn’t prepare you for is that moment when you swing your toddler’s bedroom door open and see the confused, surprised eyes of your three-year-old son as he tries to understand what just happened to him. Even as you kneel to pull him up into your arms, you think about the conversations you had with your spouse in which you fought the idea that the kid was ready to be in a big boy bed and graduate from his crib. You insisted the kid wasn’t brave enough to try to climb out, and even so, he wouldn’t be tall enough to get over the rail. And now, as the crying begins in earnest, you look up to see your entire family in front of you with scared eyes, and you know it’s your fault.
What you don’t learn in the childbirth and parenting classes is how to tell the difference between head injury vomiting and vomiting brought on by uncontrolled crying. As you stand with your entire family–the big one is now wearing a Brazil soccer jersey and is ready to wait it out in the ER–in the kids’ bathroom, you hate yourself for wondering how much a trip to the ER would cost, and then hate the system that makes you even consider how much it would cost. There is vomit everywhere, and you can actually smell the dinner you made, undigested and tracking through the grout on the tile floor.
And so, because you’ve learned none of this before, you clean and dress your younger son, and you look to Dr. Google to teach you the symptoms of concussion in a three-year-old, and you learn all you can in a short period of time–that crucial few minutes of deciding whether it’s time to go to the hospital. The kid can tell you his name, his brother’s name, his street address, his dog’s name, and his pre-school teacher’s names. He can walk a straight line. His pupils are the same size. And so you’re only left to keep him awake. And there is only one way to do that.
You forget about the wine, because–although you probably wouldn’t admit it to anybody else–you’re terrified that if there is something really wrong with your son and you have the least bit of alcohol in your blood, you’ll be blamed by the police, the media, and your peers. Deep down, you realize that–despite the fact you cooked dinner, made sure the kids’ teeth were brushed, read them a story about a dinosaur’s dinner manners, and tucked the boy in–that you are to blame for the kid falling headfirst onto his floor.
So, what they don’t tell you about parenting is that in some deep act of apology, you’ll go through a long series of medical tests, turn on “Puss In Boots,” and make popcorn–the real kind, not the microwave stuff. You tell yourself it’s only to keep an eye on the boy for a couple of hours to make sure he’s okay, but you know that you’re also trying to find an act of contrition worthy of the fates sparing your kid what might have been the unthinkable. And during that time, you have to explain to the big brother that you’re not “having a party without” him, and you concede without another word that it’s time to get rid of the crib, and you pound mercilessly on a computer keyboard while the boy snuggles with his mommy, giggles at the cartoon on TV, and shoves handfuls of popcorn in his face.
See, what they don’t tell you about parenting is that one of the greatest feelings you’ll ever feel as a daddy is realizing that your son is going to be okay.