We know the story because it is so very cliche and common: two people have a baby and plummet into a world of sleep deprivation, regurgitation, dirty diapers, and near-constant wailing. Oh, those poor, poor new parents. We’re sure they need to know more about the level of hell they’re about to inhabit, so we pet them gently on the shoulder and whisper, “Your life will never be the same.” We should take care, in the immediate aftermath of granting such unsolicited advice, to avoid the daggers they shoot out from their eye sockets, because I hear they are heat seeking and almost never miss.
What we don’t pay attention to, not nearly as much, are the tiny skills that caring for a new human bestow upon these exhausted parents. I have noted, in no apparent order, the following gifts that have careened into my lap since Emile’s birth nearly a year ago:
1. Inside sneak capability–I can creep away silently with the best of them now, which for a 5-foot 9-inch 300-pound guy is its own kind of amazing. Our baby is a very light sleeper for the first 90 minutes after bedtime, but I have mastered tiptoeing and silent movement despite the fact that our floorboards are more than 70 years old and have never been hammered down. Small beetles make the hardwood boards creak, but not moi. Whew.
2. Ability to hold complicated conversations while sleeping–Perhaps this one is a double-edged sword because people may think I’ve actually agreed to something or held a discussion with them when I have no conscious input or memory of my time spent yammering with them. But I have confidence at this point that I’d be able to talk my way out of certain death while still asleep, if I had to. What can I say, I’m a creative thinker.
3. Ambidexterity–Clingy babies still want lunch, and lunch requires a series of actions for the caretaker to execute, like putting pureed food into tiny bowls and then spooning the food with tiny utensils into a moving target. To slow down the moving target and succeed at placing the puree into the infinitesimally small aperture, which opens and closes at random frequency, one hand generally needs to come into play, so the other one must hold onto the tiny bowl and deliver the goods all on its own. Or the parent may need to run interference so the baby doesn’t manage to grab onto the food dish and fling food everywhere except into their alimentary canal. Learning to work both arms and hands equally well is a super power that is sure to be reinforced for at least the next 10 years.
4. Creative organization–If once upon a time the objects within the home were arranged only for the convenience of the adults living there, that era has now passed. There may be no creative thinking associated with inserting outlet covers around the home, but when it comes to cramming 100 percent of the objects into 25 percent of the cubic space of the house, yeah, thinking outside the box comes in handy. And if the exhausted parents have say, forgotten to baby proof ahead of a new burst in the baby’s mobility–hey, it happens–expect that the creative side of the brain will go into overdrive. And without prior notice, it will become perfectly feasible to affix particleboard bookshelves from IKEA to the wall with a combination of duct tape, craft glue (you’re not keeping up with that baby’s first year book anyway), picture hangers, and FunTak. Go you, creative genius.
5. On the go music encyclopedic knowledge and retrieval–Need a lullaby right this second? The one your mother sang to you will leap forward and reproduce itself even if quizzed moments earlier you’d sworn nobody ever sang a song to you in your childhood. And look out, because once the parental unit begins tapping into music from their first five years of life, most of it will occupy considerable memory space, displacing things like multiplication tables (my apologies to my lunchtime waiter last week), their partner’s first name, and what year it is. But need a snappy rendition from The Muppet Movie? It is right. There.
So let’s not pity new parents. They’ve got a few legs up on the rest of us. When you see a parent out in public with a child under 2, just give them a thumbs up. And feel free to ask for a quick performance of the theme song to The Great Space Coaster. I’m sure they’ll be happy to comply.