The Parent Paradox

This post is a reminder to myself. Feel free to read it if you like, but it’s mostly for me. I can’t guarantee you’ll get anything out of it, but if you happen to, then hey, that’s just gravy.

Since I’ve begun venturing out into the world more with my daughter, seeking social enrichment for her at parks, grocery stores, and other public places, I’ve come into contact with a number of other parents and their children. And in every one of my observations of them, whether that’s how they play at the park together or how they react when their child steals the toy of another’s, the same question runs through my mind:

Does everyone else not really know what the fuck they’re doing, or is that just me?

I know, I know; the reality of this is much less absolute than I’m making it. I’ve learned a lot about how to be a fair, level-headed parent over the past sixteen months, infinitely more than I had when this whole adventure began. But I can’t help but wonder if there’s some kind of Parent Paradox — a fallacy that, despite having enough knowledge about raising a child to successfully bring it from home to a public place, in one piece, with all of its clothes on, one set of parents don’t really know what’s going on any more than the others do.

I know I’m assuming a lot, mostly off the assumption that all other parents have their shit together better than me. They seem to know, intuitively, and with confident certainty, when to back off, when to move in, when to scold, and when to simply brush it off, whereas my knee-jerk reaction to every situation that interferes with another sacred bond between parent and child is to:

  1. Disengage
  2. Apologize
  3. Remove from situation

But the other parent is never angry with us. No one is offended or hurt or… anything. A situation like one kid falling on another is just something that happens between children, and parents are the ones who have to deal with it. And I’m not sure how to? Like most things, I haven’t consulted a guide book for any of this shit.

So my assumption is that just because you have a kid you’re supposed to know how to take care of it. I mean, yeah, that’s your responsibility as a parent, and you absolutely should know that. But this idea assumes that that knowledge is somehow inherent, that you are granted the powers of child-rearing simply upon her birth.

That’s not how it works at all. So why do I think it?

To make this easier to digest, I’ve taken to comparing it to drumming, since that’s the only thing I can really say with any amount of confidence that I’m skilled at. I didn’t obtain the ability to play double bass and single stroke drum fills just from holding a pair of sticks or sitting behind the kit. The skills didn’t magically bestow themselves upon me; I had to work really, really hard at them for years. In fact, it took a lot of simply playing drums, sometimes through aimless practice without any real direction, to build up a solid foundation of skills, knowledge, and endurance. I’ve been playing drums for fifteen years, and I still have lots to learn and things I can improve.

So when I look at something like the everyday challenges of public parenting, I need to make an effort to reassess what’s going on. Maybe the other parents are “better” at the gig because they’ve practiced more. Maybe they’ve had more kids, or have done their research, or have socialized more, or have spent more time socializing with kids than I have. And since I’ve done none of those things for very long, maybe it’s time to step it up.

I look to my wife for natural parenting like I used to look to the drum gods of my youth. I know she’s spent a heck of a lot more time around kids than I have, so of course her skills and general know-how seem much more natural.

Dealing with a Double Encore (This One’s About Poop)

An encore is a wonderful thing. Who doesn’t love seeing their favorite band come and play one or two more songs? It’s even more empowering when you’re on the receiving end, and the venue actually lets you do your thing. (Thanks, Jumping Turtle!) Yeah, encores are pretty great.

Except when we’re talking about shit.

Oh, you better believe we’re talking about shit. Buckle up, boys and girls, Mostly Metal Dad is here to talk about what happens when you get the wrong kind of encore.

The Kinds of Encores (Including the Shittiest Kind)

There are a few kinds of encores to identify. And I mean the real kind and the poop kind. You’ve got your “no shit” encore, where the band can’t possibly be finished because they haven’t played their best song. You’ve got your fake-out encore, where a band waits so long to come out you thought they were actually finished. You also have your double encore, where a band already did one encore, leaves, then comes out again for another song.

All these encores have varying levels of enthusiasm. For example, you’re only mildly enthused at the “no shit” encore, mainly because you aren’t surprised but still get another kickass song out of it. For the double encore you’re absolutely losing your mind with enthusiasm.

You are not at all enthused about a poop encore.

What is a Poop Encore?

A poop encore is exactly like a musical encore except much shittier (I’m a dad now, I get to do this). They’re unique from regular encores because they’re probably all surprises. Like, you would never want your baby to poop after she’s already pooped. (Unless you do, in which case you are a masochist and I hope you two will develop a very healthy relationship in the future.)

Unlike bands, babies don’t take a bow after they’ve taken a shit. There’s no clear visual cue they’re completely finished with their business. In fact, they probably look just as innocent as when you started changing them. That could not be further from the truth. Every time you open that diaper up is a gamble that could leave your changing pad, diaper table, and immediate vicinity covered in… well, you get the idea. The point is that you can’t tell when babies have finished discharging their devastating payloads. So you have to approach each diaper change with extra caution.

What to Do (About the Doo Doo)

So you know what to expect regarding encores – but how do you deal with them?

Be vigilant. You can’t let your guard down, even for a second. That’s when she’ll strike. Make sure nothing’s in the trajectory of the blast zone in case Baby decides to blast off. Remember, you can always wash whatever she happens to coat in a mustard-colored gas attack, but it’s better if you avoid that scenario altogether.

Bring a spare. It’s a good idea to have the next diaper unfolded and ready to go anyway; this just takes the idea to another level. Just place the next diaper beneath the soiled one to catch any, er, overflow. The worst that could happen is she poops again on your way back to whatever it was you were doing, or even as you are securing the new diaper on her. It’s happened to me, and it’ll happen to you too, so the sooner you can just accept that diapers were made to be bought and thrown away, the better. You’ll have days where you’ll be changing diapers faster than Dream Theater changes time signatures, so get used to it.

Don’t wait too long. This one’s tough to recommend. Every parent has a different threshold for how long they can stand to wait before changing their kid’s diaper. But sometimes a diaper that’s been peed in can use up all the soaking bits of the diaper, leaving nothing to catch a liquid shit except a soggy barrier. So if you notice your baby has a dirty diaper, don’t let her sit in it too long. Chances are it’s making her uncomfortable anyway, so you’ll be doing everyone a favor by swapping it for a dry one.

Encores are Inevitable

So I didn’t really maintain the whole musical encore metaphor to the end. Tough shit. Talking about how to deal with poop is a much more critical endeavor than showing off my writing skills.

Babies that poop after they’ve already pooped are jerks. But you can’t do anything about it! Your mind will want to shut down at the sheer impossibility and unfairness of it all, but just remember that double encores are going to happen. And this is one show you can’t duck out early on.

Babies: The Audience from Hell

Babies are a tough crowd. No, they’re worse than that – they’re the most demanding, inconsistent creatures on the planet.

And there’s no escape.

Performing for your baby is unlike any metal gig you’ve ever played. A four minute cover of “Hammer Smashed Face” might get a crowd of death metal fans on your side, but babies are a different breed of beast. Even if you’ve figured out what your kid likes – be it singing to her, reading to her, etc. – you still might have a screaming demon child who opposes your very existence, and who you are parentally obligated to supplicate to.

Breaking the Law

If you’ve played in bands, you know how it’s supposed to go. You show up, you play your set, and the audience claps. There are variations of this scenario, but that’s the basic template, the law of the land. It’s basic cause and effect. But don’t assume you can go into parenting with that same mindset. You’ve got to kick that right now if you’re going to keep your sanity.

Thinking X action will have Y effect every time is a fallacy. You can’t sing to your baby and expect her to calm down just because it worked in the past. Babies don’t operate like normal humans do, they don’t make a hell of a lot of sense. Babies don’t uphold their end of the sacred bargain, and they get away with it.

Once you accept that fact, you can begin to rebuild.

Performing for your Baby

Like baby sleep tricks, you have to have a variety of tricks up your sleeves at all times. Not everything will work the way it did when you first used it. I used to get my daughter to sleep by swaddling her in my lap and giving her a pacifier; that worked for weeks until she grew too big to lie on my lap. Then she started showing signs of being able to flip herself onto her stomach, which means no more swaddle. It’s been a constant struggle figuring out what will get her to go to sleep.

It’s the same with entertaining your baby. You could be giving the performance of a lifetime, a ten-minute set of googly eyes, funny faces, and squeaky voices that’s every bit as deserving of an encore as the most rockin’ metal show, and your child could find it absolutely odious the very next day. Babies aren’t like most audiences; they don’t want to hear the Greatest Hits at every show. Truth is, you can’t really know what they want until you find it, and it takes a process of elimination to get there.

Baby crying? Pick her up. Still crying? Check her diaper. Diaper’s clean? Rock her gently. Baby starts screaming? Maybe she has gas. Screams louder? Try rocking again. If you do the wrong thing, what’s the worst that could happen? Babies won’t boo at you. They’ll scream. For what appears to be no reason at all. I can’t decide which is worse – getting booed when you know you’re sucking, or getting screamed at for doing the things you’re supposed to. It’s like you showed up at your usual gig, started playing the crowd favorite, and everyone suddenly starts wailing like the building’s on fire.

The point is you’ll never know what will placate your baby until you try it.

Learning to Live

I don’t care how many dive bars you’ve played in or how shit your drummer gets at the end of a tour circuit – you’ll never meet an audience that is tougher than your baby. Even if you do all the things they like (and granted, that list is pretty low at the newborn stage) you still might not be able to win them over.

Patience is what you need. Patience and perseverance. Because face it – the baby isn’t going anywhere, and neither are you. You’re stuck with each other. Unlike a proper audience who has the luxury of enduring your off night for a thirty minute set, you’ll be performing for your kid for the next three months. And you won’t even get paid – not yet anyway, and not in cash.

So I’ll persevere, patiently waiting for that day to arrive. Here’s hoping it won’t come too soon; my daughter’s already growing up fast, and I want to treasure these moments as they come.