When my wife gave birth to our first child, it was a surreal experience. We walked into the hospital with nothing but ourselves and a couple of overnight bags, and we walked out with a shrunken old man in silly girls’ clothing.
The first few days with my daughter I was on such a high that I wasn’t even affected by the sleep deprivation, or the sympathy constipation (my body’s way of showing my wife solidarity).
My wife fed the baby, I changed her diapers, and then we put her to sleep – and each of those tasks seemed so special at first. Look at us, we’re actually parenting here, I thought after every successful diaper change.
But it didn’t take long for those tasks – the changing and the burping and the rocking and shushing – to lose that initial magic. In the end, taking care of a brand new baby is a job – a repetitive, sometimes boring, sometimes exhilarating, often maddening job.
Of course, my infant daughter is a beautiful, wonderful gift, and my wife and I are so lucky to have this healthy new baby. But let’s be honest, she’s not bringing much to the table at this stage in her life.
Basically, all I can do is stare at this thing – and looking at your new baby is like seeing the Grand Canyon. It’s amazing, but after a while you’re like, “Ok so, how long am I supposed to just stare at this?”
At least you can get a breathtaking sunset from the Grand Canyon on occasion. The most you’ll get from a new baby is a vague semblance of a smile that’s generally followed by a loud, wet fart, which often means the diaper was unable to contain the flood of excrement said fart ushered into the world.
I understand just how critical the first few weeks with my child are, and I know I need to “enjoy every moment because it all just goes by so fast” – but it’s just as important to find things that’ll keep you from losing your mind.
Here’s my list of those things:
1 | Rediscover great music.
For me, this was an easy one. The day after Emma (she’s the baby I keep talking about here) was born, David Bowie died. I’ve been a fan of Bowie’s since I was kid. Crisp fall Saturday mornings, the feel of the cold hardwood floor on my bare feet as I scurried into the kitchen for coffee and the sounds of “Ziggy Stardust” or “Hunky Dorey” playing through my dad’s three-foot speakers while he issued constant reminders to get ready for my soccer game.
That’s what I think of when I think of David Bowie. My dad, the Norris Hills soccer league, and David Bowie are all gone now, but there are moments when I hear “Starman” or “Life on Mars,” and the memories of those Saturday fall mornings are so vivid it feels like I traveled back in time.
The good news is that Bowie has an insane catalogue of music. In her first few weeks outside of the uterus, Emma couldn’t go through a diaper change without the sounds of The Thin White Duke in the background. We’ve been working our way up to “Blackstar,” but we’re not nearly as far along as we should be thanks to repeated visits with “Aladdin Sane.”
My hope is that 15 or 20 years from now some of the Bowie tunes I’ve been listening to with Emma will allow me to travel back to how it felt to be a brand new dad.
2 | Perform.
I’ve been playing the guitar since I was in the seventh grade, and it’s rare a day goes by without me picking up my acoustic multiple times.
Unfortunately, my performances are usually cut short by my wife. “Can you stop? I’m trying to watch the Wheel [of Fortune],” she’ll say before I even finish the intro to “Interstate Love Song.” Or, “Put that down, we’re leaving in three hours,” when she sees me reaching to pick up my trusted axe to kill some time.
To be fair, I’m not that good. My guitar playing peaked in the 10th grade, and I’ve pretty much been playing the same six-song set list ever since. But Emma doesn’t know that. I swaddle my infant daughter, throw her in the Rock ‘n’ Play, and make her to listen to me.
Even if you’re not an average or slightly below-average guitar player, you can still hold performances with your new baby using the instrument each of you can play to some extent: your voice.
I can’t sing in tune, but that doesn’t stop me from singing along to the seven full songs I know on the guitar. I even downloaded the Sing Sharp app in an attempt to make these sing-a-longs enjoyable for Emma, before she figures out what out-of-tune singing is.
Added bonus: according to some science somewhere, singing helps children retain information more quickly.
3 | Eat like you just got sent home from “The Biggest Loser.”
Right after our friends Dan and Talia had their first kid, I remember asking them: “How’s everything going?” Talia didn’t hesitate to tell me all about the perks of being a new parent: “It’s great, people keep coming over and dropping off delicious casseroles for you.” The thought of a steady stream of visitors bringing me warm, delicious food was one of the major reasons I wanted to have a kid. That’s not exaggeration.
And I know that I’m not the only one who feels this way. Ever hear of the “baby blues” and wonder what causes that postpartum depression? Studies have proven that the pure joy of food deliveries from friends and family is so powerful that, when it is suddenly stops, the brain experiences a hormonal swing and drop in serotonin levels resulting in moderate to severe depression, depending on the quality of the food.
I definitely overdid it with the comfort food. One day, I followed a heaping bowl of baked Ziti and bacon with a General Tso combination platter and chased it with a chocolate fudge Sunday and Root Beer float, and my entire left arm went numb. I remember lying there in my dog’s bed, contorted in a modified fetal position and thinking, “You’re so stupid. You took it too far, and now you’re not even going live long enough to see Emma’s one-month photo shoot.”
But like all things, it eventually passed.
4 | Catch up on all the TV you missed when you were out living a life.
Can you believe I never saw “Silicon Valley” until a few weeks ago? There are plenty of life-changing shows just like Mike Judge’s masterpiece I simply haven’t gotten around to watching. Now I can.
The single best part of having a new baby is that these tiny creatures require a ridiculous amount of sleep. That leaves plenty of free time for TV-watching. I recommend watching half-hour shows. It’s the perfect length for the new baby situation.
After all, if your little bundle starts wailing halfway through a 30-minute show, it’s easy enough to tough out those final 15 minutes. When the same thing happens during an hour-long drama, it’s much more difficult to tune out the awful sound of your baby’s selfish tantrum.
5 | Unburden yourself.
At first I was reluctant to talk to the baby. Instead, I’d babble a bunch of nonsense in this horrible voice I thought you were supposed to use around babies. But at this point, she doesn’t even really register my tone, and she sure as hell doesn’t have any clue what I’m talking about.
That’s why I use those precious moments when I’m rocking my sweet little munchkin back to sleep to unburden myself of all the stress I’ve been carrying and get things off my chest. Unlike adults who respond to me baring my soul with comments like, “When I was in a situation that was similar enough to your current situation for me to shift the focus and make this conversation all about me, I [insert triumphant story],” Emma just listens patiently and farts in agreement.
I’ve even calmly confessed to Emma that her mom and I were going to have to have a talk with a certain visitor about the importance of boundaries, because said visitor was starting to feel a little too much like a roommate – the type of roommate very, very unlucky people sometimes get stuck with during their freshman year of college.