Saturday, January 9, 2010

Fear and Exhilaration

I've been thumbing through one of the Christmas gifts I received from my wife this year, a humorous yet extremely helpful book called "The Baby Owner's Manual: Operating Instructions, Trouble-Shooting Tips, and Advice on First-Year Maintenance". It's a perfect fit for me, catering to my overdeveloped geek side by writing about the care and handling of a newborn as if it could all be summed in a snarky manual for a cool new cell phone.

Snark aside, I'm finding it to be far more interesting and helpful than the massive tomes that traditionally pass for parenting guides, like the classic "What to Expect..." series, which I find absolutely overwhelming, not to mention tremendously boring. I'll use "What to Expect..." as a "hmmmm...I'd better look this up" resource but you're not going to find me sitting down and reading it from front to back. My tolerance for dry and dusty and, quite frankly, dull is limited.

All that aside, as I've been reading the Baby Owner's Manual and other books, I've become more and more cognizant of all that can go wrong. It's actually moderately terrifying. Diseases, household appliances, psychos in the outside world, all of them just lurking to ambush our child at some point in the future. Hell, the Owner's Manual even goes so far as to point out that you need to make sure to vacuum regularly to prevent bad things from being inhaled, licked, swallowed, etc.

Great, now I have to worry about kitty fur balls as deadly weapons.

And then there's the idea that when we come home with Plus One, it's all on us. Sure we'll have friends and family to support and guide us but really, the onus is on us to keep the child safe and healthy and I'll do whatever it takes to make certain of that. I have no doubt that luck will also play a large part in that and sometimes, it's better to be lucky than good. But I know that I'll be saying a prayer of thanks at the end of each day if major bodily, emotional, and psychological harm has been avoided.

Friends with more that one child routinely tell us "don't learn that kids bounce" and other flip comments like that. They tell of how they were focused like laser beams on every aspect of child #1's life and food, etc., but that when kids 2, 3, and more came along, it turns into "sure Johnny, go ahead and eat that twig, fiber's good for you!" But I know that deep down, whether it's child 1, 2, or 10, they must feel that same fear that their child will be hurt by something they can't anticipate or a stupid accident or, god forbid, a "bad person." Of course kids get hurt and bumped and bruised and scared. That's one way they learn. As a parent, you might understand that concept but it damn sure doesn't mean you have to like it.

I wonder about living with that fear, what it will be like to be entirely responsible for the life of a small person and constantly wondering if you're good enough or smart enough or observant enough to protect them. I also wonder if it ever stops. Did my parents lived with a kernel of fear when I went off to Boy Scout camp every summer or when I sailed over the horizon on a tall ship when I was 19?

However, I've also seen the smiles and heard the laughs that come from my sister and her husband, or my best friends E and J with their two kids and I know that I can live with that fear. I can deal with the worry and the fretting and the waking up in the middle of the night just to sneak into Plus One's bedroom to reassure myself that she's OK because the exhilaration, the joy, and the wonder of being a parent and being on the receiving end of those smiles and laughter will make it all worth it.

But I'll still keep the Owner's Guide handy. You never know when a good reference book and a healthy dose of snark might be useful.

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