According to my son’s birth certificate, I became a father in 2010. But becoming an actual parent took longer. In fact, I think it took until last week.
When imagining what having kids will be like, we all have similar daydreams. Most of them focus on big moments: choosing a name, putting together a crib, going through labor, changing diapers, playing catch, taking off the training wheels, the first day of school, etc.
When I finally became a dad, many of those developmental milestones remained significant, but dozens – hundreds! – more piled up around small, everyday stuff. Every single first is a capital-F First: First burp, First smile, First poop, First solid poop, First roll-over, First sit-up, First crawl, First fall, First steps, First words …
After awhile (and Facebook walls full of pictures), you realize that those aren’t your milestones. They’re your kid’s.
That wasn’t your first smile or your first solid poop (I hope). No, the milestones you have as a parent are different. The milestones that mark the passage from being someone who has a kid to being an actual parent are less obvious than first steps or first words, but they’re no less significant.
Here are five developments that signaled my graduation from baby-toter to parent extraordinaire!
Five Signs You’ve Become a Parent
1. Shit Happens
Shortly after he was born, my wife and I took our son to a friend’s house for New Year’s Eve. At some point during increasingly drunken discussions about Dick Clark’s face and Fleshlights (true story), I had to change my kid’s diaper. During the process, one I had already undertaken countless times in the previous four months or so, I got some shit on my thumb. Human shit. It had happened before (and not just on my thumb!); tweren’t no thang. So I soldiered on and finished the job, wiping the human waste from my hands, grabbing another beer and promptly forgetting about it. When you stop giving a shit about shit, you’re becoming a parent.
2. Panic Glutton
Babies get fevers and it ain’t a big deal. It happens. It’s a sign that his body is learning to heal itself, blah blah blah. But the fact is, critical situations aside, babies have fevers and then they don’t. More often than not, the fever stays below the danger zone and it’s gone the next day. But when your first kid gets his first fever? It’s panic time. And it’s that panic – the all-consuming worry for this child that is suddenly the most important thing in your life, and by a MILE – that is the big deal. Because once you feel that panic for the first time, no matter if it’s about a fever or crying it out or the fact that he hasn’t shit in a few days or he might be allergic to eggs, it never leaves you. Panicking IS parenting.
3. The Brag
We all do it. When you have a child, that child becomes such a large part of your life – the focus of it, really – that it’s totally natural to watch with pride as he grows and develops and learns. And even if you’ve entered parenthood having vowed not to be one of those parents who constantly talks up their kid, odds are you’ll become one anyway, and you’ll find yourself talking up the strangest things. “Seriously, you should have seen the size of the crap my kid took the other day.” Bragging about your kids is a natural part of being a parent, and that first time you see someone’s eyes glaze over as you show them another adorable pic of your beautiful child is when you’ll know you’ve crossed over to the other side.
4. The Judge
Yup. Even me. Even despite writing a blog that frequently rails against those Other Parents who are constantly judging other parents’ parenting techniques, I’ve found myself doing it. Despite the fact that every child is different, every parent is different, and every situation is different, and there is NO SUCH THING as a parenting expert, it’s human nature to notice what someone else is doing and feel like your way is better. None of us knows what we’re doing, but that doesn’t stop us from acting like we know better. After a year or two, you start to feel like your experience, no matter how limited, gives you some kind of insight into the “right way” to do things. Once you start to believe you have the answers? You’re becoming a parent. (Once you realize you don’t? You’re becoming a good parent.)
5. “Because I Said So!”
This is what did it for me. This is when I knew I had earned my Parenting Stripes. I’m nonplussed by the filth. I’ve accepted panic as my natural state. I’ve been as guilty as the next person of boasting about my son’s ability to hit a baseball or use the potty or spell his name, and I’ve walked in Target and shaken my head more times than I can count after witnessing some clueless dad’s inferior attempt to discipline his kid. But it wasn’t until I became MY parents that I realized I’d become A parent. I
t happened last week when I told my son to clean up his LEGOs and he asked me why. Without thinking, I said the magic words. Only parents say shit like, “Because I said so!” The circle is now complete. Before today, I was just a guy with a kid. To quote Furious Stylez, “Any fool with a dick can make a baby, it takes a crushed soul to say ‘Because I said so.'”
A child’s development chugs along as a series of “firsts,” every one of which is a new milestone. But parenting doesn’t develop so much as accumulate. It wasn’t the first diaper change that made me a dad, it was the 50th. It wasn’t weathering that first tantrum that earned me my stripes, it’s weathering the 800th, which is happening right now, and which I’m ignoring as I type. Parenting is a war of attrition. As your child grows up, you are slowly worn down.
In that way, becoming a parent is less like acquiring a skill and more like erecting a prison – for yourself. If you’re lucky, sometime around college, you get parole.