Alex Barnett shares the truth about toddler-parenting: There are no breaks. No timeouts. No commercials. You just go and go and go.
I’m a married guy. And, not just that. I’m a married guy with a toddler. And, let me be even more specific. I’m a middle-aged married guy with a toddler. And, now, let me be as specific as possible. I’m a 47 year-old father of a 3 year-old boy.
Got the picture?
Maybe you don’t. Maybe you’re like my young, single, childless buddies who don’t understand why I can’t just go out and stay out whenever I feel like.
Well, for you (and for my friends, who ask me this question on an almost weekly basis), let me explain why I’m not out with you at some Lower East Side dive bar at 4 am on a Tuesday night.
The answer is . . . see above. See the part where I mentioned that I’m a 47 year-old father of a 3 year-old son.
“So?” I hear my aforementioned friends asking in shocked, semi-mocking, semi-derisive voices that rattle around my head.
I’ll tell you the answer to “so.” The answer is that toddler-parenting is intense. It’s full contact. It’s never-ending. There are no breaks. No timeouts. No commercials. You just go and go and go and go. It’s often exhilarating, but always incredibly taxing – physically, psychologically, emotionally. It makes you so exhausted, I’ve concluded that “going to the office” is not a product of our capitalist system but something invented by a toddler parent who desperately needed a breather.
And, when I say exhausted, I mean really tired. Old people tired. And, when I say “old people” I mean Methuselah old. Like you’ve been alive so long, that getting out of bed seems like mountain-climbing.
Athletes talk about how they “left it all out on the field.” Let me tell you something: when you are a parent, you leave it all on the field everyday all day. And, when you retrieve it from the field the next day, it’s usually got cookie crumbs in the pockets, messy handprints on the outside, and a piece of your crushed soul hanging off it like a side-view mirror that got side-swiped and is hanging there by one, lone wire.
There isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t think, “I just want to go lie on a beach somewhere.” And I hate the beach!
But, I need the beach. I need a hammock strung between two palm trees, with the sound of the waves and a very light breeze, and maybe a Corona beer. That’s it. I don’t even need a hot chick in a bikini, and that’s saying something because I’m a sexless married dude.
But I am saying it, because all I need is the rest. Just a week of 18 hour naps beneath the shade of two palm trees. But, I couldn’t get the rest if I was in my hammock at the beach because:
- My son would be calling my name over and over and over again, “daddy, daddy, daddy” to come help him build a sand castle.
- Or, he’d wander into the water, and I’d have to get up to watch because I’d be too afraid that he’d drown or be swept out to sea or be eaten by sharks.
- Or, he’d touch a jellyfish that washed up on shore and go into anaphylactic shock and I’d have to scoop him up and run from the beach to the nearest hospital like Dustin Hoffman carrying Justin Henry in Kramer vs. Kramer after Henry’s character falls off the monkey bars.
- Or, I’d turn my head for half a second, and my son would wander off, and I’d have to scramble like a wild-eyed maniac up and down the length of the beach screaming his name, panicking the whole time that he’d been kidnapped, even though it turned out that he was on the blanket of the family next to ours, but I couldn’t see him because he was playing “hide and go seek” with daddy by wrapping himself in a towel.
- Or, he’d get hit in the head by a coconut falling from the trees I’m sleeping under and be rendered unconscious, and I’d have to leap from my hammock and perform the NFL concussion assessment on him even as I fended off nosy onlookers crowding around us, accusing me of being an abusive parent who brained my poor little boy with a fibrous one-seeded drupe.
- Or, maybe the sun would be too strong, and I’d have to get up every half hour to apply a new coat of SPF one million atop the head-to-toe, UVA/UVB-blocking surf suit we made him wear.
- Or, there’d be a Tsunami alert.
- Or, maybe pirates would come ashore.
- Or, worse still, maybe there’d be teenagers, and I’d have to be the “grumpy old man” who keeps my innocent little son from being corrupted by a bunch of hormonally-charged, acne-sporting yahoos who think I don’t know that they’ve got beers hidden in their cooler and joints cupped in their hands (like I wasn’t young once, albeit in the previous century and millennium).
So, even in the most idyllic, most relaxing place on earth, I still wouldn’t be able to rest. I still wouldn’t be allowed to enjoy my piña colada in peace. In fact, my piña colada would curdle, and my Coronas would go stale, and the hot chick in the bikini would go off to talk to the guy with no chest hair and no bags under his eyes, and I would be left to look at my son, my beautiful baby boy who I love more than anything in this world and say, “Will you just . . . . Nevermind, let’s just go do what you wanted to do. What was that again? Oh, right, walk along the beach and count every single grain of sand. Okay, let’s go do that.”
And, this is why I can’t go have drinks tonight. I’m planning (and by “planning” I mean “fearing with dread-filled anticipation” my beach vacation as well as the rest of my child’s life).