This is exactly what happens. An editor writes to say, “would you like to write for my publication? About being a Dad? Something interesting, please,” and being interesting sounds like a challenge you’re up for, especially after suffering none-too-gracefully through several terrible books designed for expectant fathers, one of which used the euphemism “sweater puppies.” So you write back and zealously if stupidly propose a series of pieces, aimed at expectant fathers, each touching on an aspect of being a Dad that no one tells you shit about before the kid arrives (these things are legion). Maybe half-a-dozen of them, you say to this editor, in the full flower of optimism. This seems like a great idea to her, and to you, too. You promptly sit down and write the first six hundred words of this proposed essay, trying to simultaneously strike a calming tone and tell the unvarnished truth about the reality of being a parent. Somewhere bogged down in the terminological problem of trying also to inclusively address lesbian nongestational co-parents while maintaining a breezy, manly tone your toddler wakes up from his nap and demands something.
(Toddlers live in a perpetual state of demanding something. This is partly because they just learned how to say what they want and partly because their language skills pretty much begin and end in the declarative. The experience of living with a teensy emperor passes eventually. I hear.)
Weeks pass. If this were the movies, tumbleweeds would roll across the abandoned page. It’s perfectly serviceable but no longer feels fresh or urgent and so it gets put aside in favor of other deadlier deadlines, or getting the laundry finished (for values of “finished” that include small children in the household) or trying to determine if your son can wait until the weekend for new boots or if you really need to go after work tonight and get them.
This is a thing that happens, by the way, one of the many things no one tells you – they just shoot up overnight. One day all your kid’s pants are a fine size, reaching all the way to his shoes, and then next day they’re all capris. You find yourself sort of squinting at them one morning, trying to determine how long they’ve been like that, really? No time at all. Don’t worry; they do this.
They do a lot of things. This morning, my son who is a shade over two woke up, announced “It’s not dark. It’s day.” and proceeded in short order to smack me in the nose with a book he wanted read to him, push several towels off the upstairs gallery railing down onto the dog sleeping on the sofa below (thereby waking her up and freaking her out), drop and break a wooden dolphin and then cut himself on the resulting sharp edge, make the alarm clock go off in the guest room and flush the toilet fourteen times. This is at 7:20am on a Sunday, you understand.
(Another thing they don’t really mention about having a kid – they have no respect for the lazy weekend morning for quite some time.)
In any event, when Sunday mornings start like this at our house, we activate what we refer to as the Emergency Pastry Protocol, which is that whichever parent is marginally more functional changes the kid into a dry diaper, puts socks and shoes and a jacket on him, tosses him in the car still otherwise in his PJs and heads halfway across the city to our very favorite bakery for morning things, the place of croissants that are still warm when they open at 8am and are put from an old wooden box into a fresh paper bag. The kid loves this place. They love him back, too, and always greet him by name, in his dinosaur pajamas and his winter coat, like a very honoured guest indeed.
So there we are, having come inside out of the rain at ten minutes after eight am, this very morning, with the small person set on Rambunctious and the big person (me) struggling to keep up. Monsieur Rambunctious issues further demands:
“I want to eat! I want to sit in a chair! I want to sit in a chair and eat my kah-sunt!”
I settle him in a chair, then I re-settle him elsewhere when he – channeling his inner Diva – insists that he requires a different chair. I put him in it, give him a piece of croissant to start with, and go to stand on line to pay. He remains seated for some unit of time too small to measure with common chronological instruments, and then gets up and starts to wander around. The bakery is tiny, and packed, and little man has his mouth crammed full of croissant as he cheerfully and completely ignores my quiet instructions to please sit back down, or come here, or holy crapping tadpoles please just please stop touching everything in the whole wide world one by one.
He’s clearly in his own world, his long curls all but covering one half of his face, munching contemplatively with a tin of sardines in his hand. I’m getting progressively more cross, because he’s not responding to my instructions at all, and that is one of my least favorite toddler behaviours. Out of the corner of my eye I see movement, a gesture that my parental sixth sense tells me is related to my son, so I turn to look.
There’s a guy over by the fix-your-coffee-how-you-like-it station. He has indicated the little dude to his partner, and is smiling at her. She reaches out and takes his hand, and smiles back at him and in this moment I realize that she is at least eight months pregnant, and that they are both looking at my kid with faces of delight and anticipation as he gets crumbs all over the floor and all down the front of his pajamas and wanders at his own glacial pace over to stand beside me and lean his sleep-tousled head on my hip. Still eating his croissant, still clutching a can of sardines.
Oh. Right. They don’t see what I see at all. They don’t see how he won’t sit still and isn’t listening and is covered in a mush of crumbs and smears of butter and raindrops. They see how he’s eating well and watching everything and is confidently taking jars of jam off the lowest shelves, inspecting them, and placing them back on the shelf with the less-buttery hand. When he reaches up to me with one of the jars and says “Papa! This is a boo-berry jam, Papa! Is it yummy?” the man gives the woman a look of such love and longing it kind of spears me through the heart a little bit. I remember that moment of perfect expectation, before the mess and sleeplessness set in.
There. That’s the first thing no one tells you about being a Dad (or the lesbian equivalent): you’re so fucking lucky you shouldn’t be able to stand yourself most of the time. That’s your kid. Your amazing kid who adores you, even when he’s kicking you in the ear or trying to stick his buttery fingers in your eye (and certainly smearing them all over your glasses), and the fact that he won’t sit down and refuses to listen is totally immaterial. They never sit down, and they hardly listen. They’re still magic. Try very hard to remember.