Vampbaby turned 1 year old almost two months ago -- and as we revel in his seemingly overnight transition from "infant" to "toddler" ("Angst-ridden teenager" seems very near suddenly), it seems like a good time to step back and look at what I've learned in his first year on this earth. May this be a quide to any new dad beginning the journey:
Lack of sleep will not kill you, but it will sure feel like it. A cousin of mine told me before our son was born, "Remember: no one has died due to lack of sleep". While this thought was of great comfort on the many long nights that followed, it was soon replaced by the concept that, certainly, people have died from stupid things they did due to lack of sleep -- like driving, tightrope walking, or operating machinery like construction vehicles, blenders and microwaves. Semi-conscious use of a pen or keyboard have also been seen as life-altering errors for some. This concept does provide the needed fear to keep you "on edge" enough to avoid entry into the "Darwin Awards", at least until sleep does arrive, which for me was after the 1st birthday.
You will become obsessed with poop. Sorry gentle reader, but as bizaare as this sounded when I was first told, it's absolutely true. Poop's many colors, textures and scents will be the clock you set your watch to. When it arrives, there is great rejoicing. When it does not, there is panic. The primal nature of our existance returns to your attention with full force during the first year. Enjoy*.
*Note that I'm talking about your child's poop, not your own. If you become obsessed with your own, I recommend immediate referral to a Freudian Psychoanalyst. A few years on the couch will be needed. Tell no one.
You will have a new appreciation for the film Memento. Memory of your pre-baby life vanishes immediatley upon delivery. Not until quite recently was I able to picture in my mind exactly what I did with my non-work time before I was a parent. The notion that I would come home from a day's work, plop on the couch and not move until midnight seemed unbelievable, even though it was a part of my routine just a week before Vampbaby arrived on the scene. While we have recently returned to some balance of family and personal time that allows for the occasional free-for-all veg-fest, it is still hard to believe that I had so much free time at one point.
Every baby becomes your baby. I no longer watch the news in the same way I did before. Stories about the evils of the world, and their impact on children, now send you running to the crib to check on and hold your little one. I've always been passionate about improving the world for youth, but when it's your own son that you superimpose over the image of the starving child in Africa, it takes on a resonance that's almost unbearable. Fortunately our news these days is focused more on our national leadership's "goof of the hour", so I don't have to avert my eyes too long. But try to avoid images or stories of child abuse, murder or neglect. It'll send you off the deep end.
You actually know what you're doing. Natural instict does kick in -- at least, it did for us. There is always that question about whether or not you have "what it takes" to be a parent; particularly when you hear so much about those who clearly should have been sterilized early on given what they've done to youth (see the above lesson). However, my wife went from Vamplady to Vampmommy overnight, and I found myself relying heavily on instict that turned out to lead me in the right direction -- the Force really does work in this instance.
Others also know what they're doing, but you won't believe it. Eventually, the dreaded day will arrive; you will hand your baby off to someone else and leave the vecinity for more than 5 minutes. Maybe it'll be the first "date night" for the new parents, or perhaps it will be a more extended trip. Often times the "someone else" is a grandparent -- the very person who raised you! Yet, you will feel as though you need to educate them about every element of caring for an infant as if they've never done it before. While some of the technology has changed ("Car seats?!? Why, when you were young we just put you in a cardboard box!"), the basic framework for caring for an infant is about the same as it was a thousand years ago. Take note of the fact that you seemed to have turned out unscathed when the fear grips you. Everything will be fine*.
*Of course, this is assuming that you're not leaving your child with someone you do not know, or some distant relative who's only experience with a baby was enjoyment of the "dancing baby" on Ally McBeal. If you fall into this category of decision-making -- please go to your nearest competent parent so they can redirect you, hopefully non-violently.
You and your inner-child will become best friends! I've always been an adult known for my eternal youth, but there's nothing like a baby around to help you revert back to your own childhood days. Of course, while typical "inner child" connect involved the you of the teenage years, your son or daughter will bring you back to a much, MUCH earlier time. The flashy toys that sing, given with love to your offspring by a dear friend, will find their way into your heart as well, until one would wonder from a distance who exactly is playing with all of these toys -- the baby or the parent.
Having a child can be the best stress-reliever available. I was prepared for the stress of parenthood -- there's enough in books and stories out there to terrify even the most competent individual who chooses to take the plunge. But what I didn't expect was that having a child would do actually wonders for my work-related stress level. As someone who used to work 24-hours a day, 7 days a week, a child forced me to re-direct my focus and attention in a more balanced fashion. I'm still obsessed with my job, and work like crazy, but I no longer "bring it home with me". Having a little one who is so "in the moment" helps bring out that quality in their parents as well. The worries of the day, the work not accomplished, the meeting that didn't go well, disappear into the fog when confronted with a giggling child and the five-thousanth reading of "One Fish, Two Fish".
Your car is no longer a transportation device. I have spent countless hours over the past year sitting in my car, listening to NPR and playing video games on my cell phone, while Vampbaby has slept -- in fact, Vampmommy is outside doing this very thing as I type! While our son has had his sleep issues, he does pretty well now, and has always napped effectively in the car. So, afternoon errand runs roll on into a few hours in the Target parking lot, letting the car engine sooth him into slumper while "This American Life" keeps us entertained. Right after my son was born I heard about a product that you can buy that attaches to the crib and simulates the vibrations and sounds of a car going 55 miles per hour. I never got it, but the real thing has done a great job as Mr. Sandman.
There's more we learned in the first year, and the learning continues. My wife and I were told that our lives would change after we got married, and we really didn't notice it. However, life does change dramatically after becoming a parent. As I begin to recall what my life was like before Vampbaby again (that Memento-thing continues for awhile), I am continually noticing new awarenesses that were not there before.
Oh yeah, and poop. Don't forget about that.