I have a 16-month old son I love more than life itself. Having a child means you never go a day without smiling or laughing, but it also means you will rarely go a day without wanting to escape, screaming out of the front door of your house and running, flailing your arms until you find yourself in the next county. That’s the dichotomy of the rookie dad, and it’s one that I’m coming to accept about this new lifetime appointment I’ve taken on.
We all know that no means no. All of us, except toddlers. No is just prelude to “oh yeah? Watch me” for a 16-month-old still testing his limits. Don’t climb on that stool, don’t touch the lamp plug, don’t jump on the poor beaten-down dog while he’s asleep and trying to avoid your assaults. Don’t. No. Stop. Quit it. I have run out of negative descriptors to deliver to my son, in varying pitches and tones. None works. It is madness.
But then, housing a toddler is akin to fostering a tiny escaped sociopathic madman, a spastic human devoid of morals, values, or any but the most devious reasoning. That complete absence of social understanding leads to, say, eardrum-shattering, glass-breaking fits when you won’t let them eat dirt out of the houseplant. The fits are Homeric. They will test your patience until camping out at the DMV sounds like a vacation.
Also, remember when your house was clean? Remember when you made sure everything was in the right spot and the floors were safe to walk on without shoes? Those days are gone for many, many years now. Everything will be everywhere. Toys, food, tupperware, clothes, shoes. All the time. Your world will be cloaked in a mysterious, invisible stickiness. No matter what you touch, no matter where you are, regardless of the time of day, everything will be sticky.
The early years of fatherhood are a gauntlet. The rookie years are too taxing to describe. There’s no need to feel guilt or shame for internally pleading for a break. The reward is worth it. Your days will also be hilarious and full of warmth.
It is OK to stare at your watch and count down the hours, minutes, and seconds till bedtime. It is absolutely acceptable to shout out a William Wallace-esque FREEDOM when you drop the kiddo off with grandparents. And it is entirely understandable to remember the ease at which your life functioned in those pre-spawn years (ah, remember restaurants? Weren’t they fun?). If you weren’t silently praying for these moments of clemency from parenthood, it may be too late for you. You may have already lost your mind.