“Feet feet feet feet feet!”
Yup, that’s me — squeaking the word “feet” while sitting on a sidewalk in front of an ice cream shop. In full view and earshot of dozens of people.
“Foot,” I growl. “Foot.” Then, back to the squealing: “Feetfeetfeetfeetfeetfeetfeetfeet!”
But only one person laughs at my bizarre behavior: my son, then nearly 10 months old. He giggles as I clap his feet together and my chanting breaks into a new, even higher octave.
I know I was strange before the kid came along, but parenting is taking me to whole new levels of weird.
Probably the most disturbing change is my new, surprisingly high comfort level with bodily functions. Vomit, urine, poop … eh, no big deal. The stranger part is that it’s not limited to my son’s dirty diapers: witnessing my son’s birth booted most of my personal modesty out the window.
I know many first-time expectant mothers imagine the moment of birth as a softly-lit, fuzzy, intimate affair, maybe with a few Cupids hovering around the room sprinkling sparkles on everything. But for my son’s birth at a hospital, we shared our Special Moment with an obstetrician, an internist, three nurses, an anesthesiologist and both my wife’s parents, making the occasion feel only slightly more intimate than a monster truck rally. And in the middle of the throng is my wife, in tremendous pain and forced to expose the most personal parts of her body to a roomful of strangers while Proud Grandpa photographs the Blessed Event in loving, graphic detail.
After all that, peeing in front of another person really doesn’t seem like a big deal. C’mon in, have a conversation; I’ll be done here in a little bit!
I’m also picking up strange new skills. Before, all babies just looked like … well, babies. Now, I sort them by age almost unconsciously. I now know how to handle most mild childhood illness. I’ve even learned to take a temperature rectally without scarring either my son or myself, physically or emotionally.
The strangest part, though, is how my life’s purpose has changed.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve believed I was destined to change the world. Since high school, I always figured I’d do it through my journalism — by holding public officials accountable, uncovering huge scandals, stuff like that. But as I get older, the realities of everyday life have tempered my teenage enthusiasm. I realize now that I might still change the world, but it’ll probably just be one teensy corner of it.
My son is my corner.
He’s counting on me and on his mom to care for every part of his being — his health, his mind, his morals, his identity. He deserves all the same world-changing opportunities my parents gave me. And despite all the time I sink into my writing and my work and everything else, raising my children is the most important thing I’ll ever do during my time on this earth.
Exactly one year ago from the moment I’m writing this, I was still in that zoo of a delivery room. I had just held my boy for the first time, as he screamed his little head off and eventually drifted off to sleep.
He’s sleeping now, too — sprawled on his side, the same way I sleep. He stirs and rolls over when I reach down to feel his chest rise and fall with each breath. He’s a full-fledged toddler now, able to walk and climb and even come down stairs on his own. He’s constantly learning new words, new ideas, new skills. I’m more proud of what he’s teaching himself than of anything I’ll ever accomplish.
And strangely enough, that feels pretty wonderful.
Happy birthday, son. I love you.