Over the past few months, my wife and I have been embarking on what I’m sure is the most important battle we’ll face in parenting: regaining our sanity. I’m talking about sleep training. The principal technique I employed was “being an awful person.”
Of course, we started by trying the most humane method: “co-sleeping.” This is where you share a room or even a bed with your child. It didn’t work. Babies are loud. Co-sleeping would be like if you had a broken alarm clock that went off every 20 minutes and you said to yourself, “You know what, maybe the place to put this thing is in the bed right next to me?”
Soon we opted for the other extreme: the “cry it out” method. If co-sleeping is compassion, cry-it-out is tough love. You set your baby in a crib in a different room, close the door, and hope for the best. It’s hard. Your baby is all alone in a dark room, screaming like he’s being attacked by geese. He needs you. He needs someone to comfort him and feed him every 11 seconds and mumble soothing words, such as, “Why can’t you go the f to sleep?” But you can’t. If he learns that crying makes an adult appear, he’ll never sleep alone. You have to let him “cry it out.” But you feel like an awful person.
My wife, who possesses traits such as compassion and empathy, struggled to resist. Only a series of textbook open-field tackles by me kept her hand from the nursery doorknob.
I, on the other hand, had no trouble being the bad guy. Apparently my parenting style is modeled on the evil prison warden Samuel Norton in “The Shawshank Redemption”: “Oh, he’s crying, is he? Put him in solitary, in the nursery! Eight hours!”
But it worked. Hours of screaming shrank to minutes. Then, magically, he was asleep. Now, he barely grazes the crib and he’s passed out like it’s a NyQuil commercial.
Sometimes a little tough love goes a long way.
It’s not unusual for my wife and me to have lengthy conversations entirely dedicated to describing bodily fluids. There’s probably a day coming soon when we accidentally forget, and — sitting at a dinner party, sipping wine and making polite conversation about Elizabeth Warren’s immigration proposals — blurt out, “Well, I’m all for migrants’ rights, but right now I need to migrate to the toilet. The last time I pooped was six hours ago, and if I wait any longer, we’re going to need to do an outfit change, if you know what I mean.”
“Don’t worry, honey, I packed you a spare onesie.”
Even if we don’t slip up in public, at home in private, we find ourselves talking a lot about bodily functions. But what words to use? Poop and pee are little kid words. I feel like one of those kindergarten teachers who gets home and forgets she’s not still at work: “Sweetie, before we go out to the club, do you need to make a doody?”
So what other words to use? For starters, you can’t use bro-ish euphemisms. Your baby doesn’t have to “take a leak.” He’s not pledging Alpha Delta Phi. You can’t call out across a roomful of in-laws, “Hey, can you check his diaper and tell me if he took a dump?” Clearly, no.
Of course you’ve got your polite euphemisms, but new parents don’t have time to be polite. We need specificity. Six month-olds don’t “go to the bathroom” or “visit the restroom.” (Chances are he has already “visited” his diaper.)
I suppose you could go with comic pop-culture phrases. “Son, do you need to take the Browns to the Super Bowl?” But let’s face it: the Browns will never go to the Super Bowl.
So I have taken to using fancy Latin words instead. They’re polite, but specific (and make you sound like you’ve been reading Norman Mailer). Someday my son is going to be in preschool, telling the teacher, “I have to micturate. Don’t worry, already defecated.”
Here’s another parenting decision I’ve had to make.
With my son riding in the car with me now, I have tried to cut back on cursing at other drivers. Just what we need on his first day of kindergarten. Some nervous five year-old walks in front of my son on the way over to the carpet for circle time, when suddenly: “Hey, did you just cut me off, you f—ing s—head? Where’d you learn to drive? Trump University?”
Speaking of which, can you imagine the pressure on kindergarten teachers? My wife and I are going to be a mess in our first parent conference: “Alright, what’s our ceiling, here? Are we talking off-the-charts genius? Or that weird kid who makes bird noises during math? You’re not saying anything. Should we be thinking Berkley, or low-level TSA? What about mid-level?”
Being a high school teacher is much easier. By the time kids get to me, their parents have pretty much heard it all.
“Uh, hi, Mrs. Smith, just wanted to let you know that your son Johnnie . . .”
“I know, I know, he’s a little shit. We’re literally counting the days until we turn his bedroom into an office.”
Hopefully my wife and I will have some idea before we go to that first conference, but I have a feeling we’ll still be sweating.
It is hard for me, an introvert, not to hope my son turns out to be an extrovert. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the gifts introverts possess — inner fire, reflectiveness, an affinity for deep conversation and intense friendships. I do. But life is unmistakably easier for extroverts. It’s our culture. Garrulousness is currency. Introspection is suspect; “reserved” is a pejorative term. The need to escape people (to recharge) is usually confused with disliking them.
Better to be uncomplicated, an extrovert. An optimist, too, if possible.
Those are my hopes now at seven months. Now if you’ll excuse me, some f—ing jerk just cut me off . . .