Tuesday, December 27, 2011


So, here's something I was thinking about the other day:

“Are you ready?”

Depending on the context, this is either one of the most normal, mundane, and appropriate questions you could ask a person, or one of the most ridiculously absurd. To illustrate, allow me to present a few scenarios in which this is an appropriate question:

Scenario 1: A frustrated husband is sitting on the edge of the bed as his wife tries on outfit after outfit, delaying their departure for a night out with friends. The babysitter is downstairs yet they appear to be no closer to leaving than they were 15 minutes ago when the babysitter arrived.

“We really should be going. Are you ready Sweetie?”

Totally appropriate use of the question.

Scenario 2: You are a student and you are waiting outside the room before your final exam of the semester. You have studied for days, making flashcards and outlining the material. Your friend walks up to you minutes before the test is about to begin.

“Man, I’m exhausted, I can’t wait to get this thing over with. You ready bro?

Again, an appropriate use.

Yet, there is one specific situation in which this question is never really appropriate: when speaking to a pregnant woman, or a couple, about to have a first baby.

Now, it’s not an inappropriate question to ask because it’s offensive in any way or because it can be construed as objectionable[1]. It’s inappropriate because there is no possible way the parents to be can a) be ready and b) know if they’re ready.

There is no possible way to know what it is like to have a baby if you’ve never had one before. There is no way to prepare for the sleepless nights[2], the all-consuming nature of a baby, the overwhelming sense of “holy shit, I’M the adult.” There is no way to know what you don’t know until you suddenly realize that you don’t know it. There’s no way to prepare for something you can’t really prepare for.

Here’s another example for the guys. Let’s say you knew that at 3 p.m. on Thursday afternoon, you had an appointment to get kicked in the balls[3]. Maybe, and this is a stretch, you tried to prepare by punching yourself in the nether region. As you show up for your appointment, you know it’s going to hurt and you start mentally preparing yourself for the pain. You try and come up with a strategy for how to deal with the pain at the moment of impact, and you steel yourself for the coming blow. However, when you actually get kicked, it is far worse than anything you imagined.

It’s the same thing with having a baby. Just like you can’t ever truly prepare yourself to get kicked in the nuts, you can’t truly “be ready” to have a baby.

Sure, there are “planners” out there who do as much as they can to prepare for the arrival of their little bundle of joy: they find out the gender[4], they buy all the furniture, paint the nursery, buy clothes and hang them in the closet. All they need is to insert the baby into their habitat. But that gives such a false sense of readiness. You can get THINGS ready, but you can’t really be ready.

Before we had our first son, a few people asked me if I was ready. “I guess,” I replied, “I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.”

Intellectually, I knew that a newborn wakes up in the middle of the night to eat. I knew that he would not be able to do anything for himself, nor really communicate to me what he wanted or needed in any sort of meaningful way other than crying. I knew that I would have to change diapers.

I knew all that.

But knowing it and living it are two completely different things. And until you’ve lived it, you can’t really be ready for it.

I know what some people are going to say. There are two arguments from people who think they’ll know what it’s like.

Argument 1: “But we have a dog. We sort of know what it’s like to have a kid.”

No you don’t. Sure, maybe there are some parallels, like the fact that you have to train a puppy not to poop and pee in the house, and they might whine or bark in the middle of the night. But you leave the dog alone in the house when you go to work or go out, right? You put a bowl of food on the floor and the dog just eats it, right? In fact, won’t a dog eat just about anything? Not the same.

Argument 2: “I’ve taken care of my sister’s kids.”

Sure, being an aunt or uncle can help prepare you a little bit, but you get to send the kids home to their parents, right? You get to be the fun one who spoils them with presents and candy without ever really having to discipline them, right? Again, not the same.

The only people who might possibly have an idea what it’s truly like to be a parent without actually having been a parent is a live-in nanny for a really rich family/celebrity. A nanny who basically raises the child for the parents, who wakes up and feeds the baby in the middle of the night, who does almost everything a parent would do in place of the parent, might have an idea.

But considering about 99.999% of the world does NOT fall into that category[5], we’re back to the fact that you just can’t be ready, or know how not ready you are, until you’ve had a baby.

Look, I’ve asked the question before. In fact, a few months ago, I asked this woman at work, who was 8 or 9 months pregnant, if she was ready, which is what made me think about this. Now, she already had a kid, which changes things dramatically. Having a newborn is always rough, whether it’s your first child or not, but having gone through it before is a major help. Sure, you’re still exhausted, you have another kid to deal with in addition to the baby, but you’ve been through it before and you know what to do. You’re not worried about breaking the baby when you change his diaper, and you know what to do so he doesn’t pee all over you. You know that it’s okay when the soft-spot on top of his head throbs while he’s in the bath and that the crying will eventually stop.

Are you ready? Were you ready? Will you be ready?

You never know until you know. You know?

Good times.

[1] Though, I guess there’s always someone who will find even the most benign things offensive.
[2] Unless you happen to have been captured by a foreign government’s shadowy intelligence service that has subjected you to sleep deprivation as a means of torture
[3] Why one would have such an appointment, I have no idea.
[4] Though that’s not 100% foolproof
[5] That is a very unscientific number I came up with off the top of my head, but I think it’s probably pretty accurate.

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