Published on October 27th, 2014 | by Richard Black0
Raising Children a.k.a Exploring Exhaustion
Whenever a new parent asks me for advice I dole out the usual, “Have a good car seat. Make sure there’s a comfortable chair in the baby’s room. Don’t buy any clothing that doesn’t look good in recycled breast milk,” you know, the sort of guidance most seasoned parents would provide.
When pressed for something a bit more useful however I offer the following tidbit.
“Get ready to be tired,” I say, “Really tired. Buy stock in the company that makes your caffeinated beverage of choice and then buy some more. If you’ve got a local coffee shop you like that’s even better. Get a loyalty rewards card. It won’t save you much money but that extra latte will take some of the sting out of the fact that by the time your child enters kindergarten you will have singlehandedly be provided the owner with the means to send his children to private college somewhere in Europe and a yacht to get them there.
After four years of child rearing I can honestly say that I have experienced exhaustion at a level I wouldn’t have been able to imagine before I had a child. There is no marathon four day road trip, day after a weekend bender or forced viewing of the entire Twilight series that can compare to the complete and utter exhaustion I’ve felt ever since my daughter came into the world.
I know this because I was there, at least I’m pretty sure I was.
A good friend of mine once told me that I should expect to remember nothing from my daughter’s first six months of life and he was right. The only reason I know that is because I kept a journal. I even read it. It turns out that I didn’t have an awful lot to say or that my daughter just wasn’t that interesting. I’m not sure which. The bulk of my entries begin with “I am so fucking tired,” followed by a largely incoherent ramble about the events of the day that ended with “asdlkfjahyihd” or some other mix of letters after I passed out and planted my face on the keyboard.
I’d like to say that things have gotten better, and they have, a bit. Raising a child is a lot like being the victim of a stroke. Gradually with time you regain some modicum of your former functionality. After four years or so into parenthood I can say that I’ve regained about 30 percent of my vocabulary and mobility is up to 80 percent or so which isn’t as great as it sounds. Sure it’s nice to be up and about but there isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t bark the living shit out of my shins or my hands or any other portion of my body on a table, counter top or thoughtlessly placed door. Think of a zombie with working nerve endings who bangs his flailing limbs and torso on any available corner, wall, and occasionally the floor as he moves through a room. That’s generally where I’m at during any given point in the day, unless of course I’m driving.
Parents spend a lot of time driving. We drive our kids to school, to playdates, to haircuts and soccer practice, to rendering plants and the store. There is a lot of driving involved when one doesn’t actively discourage one’s child from taking part in any extracurricular activity.
Prior to being a father I never understood the idiots who fell asleep in their cars on the morning commute and plowed into a median or a tour bus full of Jerry’s Kids.
These days I get it. Aside from the drunks coming home at seven in the morning I’m fairly certain that sleep deprived parents present the biggest danger to life and limb on the road. As a somewhat older and slightly wiser parent I’ve acknowledged the possibility I may pose a danger to the general public in the morning. Instead of tearing down the highway at a blistering 50 miles I’ve started taking back routes on my way to drop Darcy off at school.
There’s no sort of “good” accident to be had on the interstate. Then again the back roads have their own perils as well. They take longer which doesn’t necessarily sound that treacherous but that extra few minutes could very well mean the difference between a nap at home and a nap behind the wheel and an accident or a ticket as I drift through an intersection at a stately five miles and hour.
Darcy generally approves of my taking the back routes which is nice as it coincides with her desire to “take the pretty way” and not the faster but “plain way” of the interstate. “Take the pretty way daddy,” she says whenever I ask her which way we should go. It’s a small thing that keeps my daughter from screaming during the ride and one that will undoubtedly lead to some horrid consequences in the future. At least when she steals a car in fifth grade or gets busted sleeping with her English teacher we’ll be able to point to the time where it all started going bad.
“It was when the old man started to let me choose how to go home that I knew I had him,” Darcy will say at her trial, “He knew I’d throw a fit if he didn’t and it wasn’t too long to I realized that all I had to do was throw a tantrum and I’d get my own way. Like the time I took a gun runner to prom…”
“But I was tired!” my plea will fall upon deaf ears. The jury will still vote to convict.
“There were two lives ruined by your carelessness Mr. Black,” the judge will warn before sending me to prison for a few months with a bunch of coked up tweekers who were doing the drugs I, apparently, should have been doing to stay awake for the sake of my child.
Raising children doesn’t necessarily have to be exhausting. I suppose I could fill up a bowl of cereal and toss it on the floor and go on about my business or take a nap. Darcy’s old enough to drink out of the toilet. Even if one chooses to do more than the bare minimum tending to a child is tiring but not mind numbingly so. The real problem occurs when you want to do something other than cook or clean or even pretend to have an interest outside one that doesn’t involve that sweet little boy or girl you have not begun to resent in any way.
I ballpark that I get two hours of sleep in any given three days. Don’t worry it’s not as bad as it sounds. Due to the effects of extreme sleep deprivation I’m unable to remember exactly how miserable I was over any given period of time. I’m also extremely suggestible without sleep and would cheerfully join the Moonies or the Elks or really any group that could provide me with any sort of direction.
At some point in the near future I’m fairly certain I’ll forget how to get home, to the store or really anywhere and will rely completely on Darcy to navigate me to wherever she thinks we should be. “Daddy take me the pretty way” will one day turn into “Daddy let’s go to Disney World,” and I’ll be so tired that I won’t even notice.
“Just let me plug it into the GPS sweetie,” I’ll say and before I know it I’ll be in Knoxville Tennessee, gassing up the car and thinking that I should probably give my wife a call.