I worked as a childcare professional for over a decade, which, I’m sure you can imagine, helped me form an opinion on nearly everything parenting related. There were a few big things that I could not understand about parenting, and I was looking forward to getting my own kid so I could discover these deep, dark parenting mysteries. Two of them have finally been solved!
First up was the mystery of why new parents are so tired all the time. I didn’t understand this one because babies are so darn peaceful, and they sleep all the time. How could you possibly be tired? Most of Dylan’s life, that’s been true. I’m usually pretty well rested. But two or three times, kind of out of nowhere, I’ve found myself cranky, sluggish, irritable, exhausted. I realized that while I’m getting lots of sleep, I haven’t slept more than 3 hours at a time in 5 months, and all of that sleep has been the “alert sleep” of keeping a corner of my consciousness tuned to Dylan. Every now and then, that catches up to me like a freight train. When that happens, Joshua taking Dylan for even just an hour so I can sleep dead-to-the-world makes a huge difference. Collectively, I think Joshua and I are doing pretty good on the tired front: Joshua’s sleep hasn’t been disrupted at all. He’s the one with the big job, and I’m the one with the boobs, so there’s no reason for both of us to lose sleep. Also, nighttime parenting might very well be my favorite time. I wouldn’t trade falling asleep and waking up with Dylan for anything – not even a whole night’s sleep!
Next, there’s a thing I’ve noticed with parents in public, and I’ve seen this a gazillion times over the years. The parent will do something mean to their child: try to force the kid to eat green beans, take away a toy, reprimand the child for yelling, whatever. For shorthand, let’s say it’s taking the kid’s lollipop away. So the parent takes the kid’s lollipop away, the kid starts crying (understandably!) and the parent looks over sheepishly at me (a random stranger in public) and says, “She’s tired,” as if to explain why the kid is crying. First, I don’t need an explanation of why your kid is crying. It happens, and it’s okay. But second, I saw you take her lollipop; I know why she’s crying, and it isn’t because she is tired! This happened so many times, I was really curious what happens to you when you become a parent that causes you to do this.
Then it happened one day. I stole Dylan’s lollipop, he started crying, and I turned to Joshua and said, “He’s tired.” Then it happened several more times over the next couple of weeks. WHAT THE FUCK?!
I kept trying not to say it, but it kept popping out of my mouth, and it really weirded me out. I’ve finally figured it out, though. With Dylan, the lollipop thing is usually that I’ve set him down. I finally realized that the reason I explain that he’s tired is because I set him down all the time – the whole day is really full of me picking him up and setting him down. But when he’s tired, he doesn’t want to be set down, so he starts to cry. If someone is nearby – Joshua – I feel the need to explain that I’m not a big meany, that I’m doing something normal, but that Dylan is crying because he’s tired.
Thinking back over all those parents through the years, I can see that the same thing was probably happening. They take their kids’ lollipops away all the time and it goes over just fine, but on this occasion the kid was tired and it didn’t go over so well. The kids’ reactions surprised the parents and they felt the need to make excuses to strangers. Okay, fine, that all makes sense. But here’s the part I still don’t understand: none of those parents gave the lollipop back once it became clear that the kid was tired. It’s not like the kid was just crying over tiredness. The kid is tired and you stole her lollipop. So maybe you shouldn’t do that when she’s tired! When I set Dylan down and he starts to cry and I realize that it’s been a couple of hours since he last slept, I pick him back up again.
Oh, well. I guess it was never really a mystery that I would be a different kind of parent than many other people. Still, it’s great to have a couple of the mysteries solved!