Not What I Expected

[I wrote this in 1997, so it’s too late to send any congratulatory cigars. I’m still accepting cash, though.]

My wife and I recently discovered we hadn’t gained much ground in our pursuit of vast riches and fame. In the meantime, though, we’d created a wonderful marriage together and our growing love for one another was forging an endless trail to happiness. What’s more, it was wide enough for an entire family, so we decided to have one. Months later, after realizing “family” meant more to my wife than simply buying some sort of domesticated pet, I found myself anxiously awaiting the results from a home pregnancy test.

Two positive blue lines soon confirmed the news: we were expanding!

Over the course of the next month, we successfully completed all of the prerequisites for becoming overly excited, first-time parents. We visited the doctor for an ultrasound that produced some keen wallet-sized pictures of our baby and the joyful sounds of a heartbeat. We bought and read What to Expect when You’re Expecting. We started a vigorous exercise program, dropped all of our bad habits, and discovered our MasterCard had a credit limit after buying only a few essential items (e.g. an adorable pair of size-0 Air Jordan shoes).

To help keep ourselves under control, we decided not to find out the sex of our baby. In theory, this would simplify and improve our purchasing decisions by eliminating gender-specific items. In practice, we found our inability to make competent decisions was completely unrelated to the baby’s gender. We spent an entire weekend shopping for the ultimate baby crib, for example, only to discover that mattresses were sold separately. Since it seemed unreasonable to place a newborn directly onto metal springs, we asked one of the friendly, knowledgeable, commission-paid salespeople for advice.

This was when things got crazy.

The store had everything from coarsely sanded scraps of plywood to the remarkably expensive Baby Sleep-O-Matic 3000. Beads of sweat formed on my forehead as the salesperson explained the obvious advantages to buying a high-quality mattress. How could I sleep well at night knowing my child was lying on anything less than the nicest bed? How could I face them in thirty years when he or she was permanently deformed because I’d been too cheap to spend a few extra dollars that day?

As I hauled the Sleep-O-Matic out to our truck, followed by the crib and matching changing table, I jokingly told my wife we were going to need a larger house before this was over. Then, as I was loading the rocking chair and our baby’s new dresser, my wife joked back that it would be fun just to look at some new houses in the area.

We signed the mortgage papers sometime late into our fourth month. Fortunately the house wouldn’t be ready to move into until our seventh month, which meant we’d definitely have to sedate our purchasing frenzies to avoid enlarging the already burgeoning pile of stuff that had to be packed and moved. It also meant MasterCard would have time to tally our outstanding debt and give their employees a nice vacation, courtesy of our future interest payments.

The fifth month spurred three major revelations for us.

  1. Instead of designing and building an entirely new Baby Suite, we’d just move all of the baby furniture straight into our room. This came to us after a frantic day of searching for sheets, curtains, and wallpaper that needed to be gender-neutral until the baby was born, then appropriately morph into all-boy or all-girl decor.
  2. Any of my past girlfriend’s names could not be used, or even suggested, for a baby girl.  Since I exhausted my entire list of names just prior to this revelation, my wife insisted I focus my attention elsewhere. Therefore, I decided to work on buying clothes for our baby.
  3. I am not qualified to buy our baby clothing. Despite justifying why a boy would love having a coonskin cap and matching toy musket just as much as a little girl, my wife demanded exclusive control over all future clothing decisions.

In short, I’d been fired.

To counteract this injustice, I appointed myself Entertainment Director and spent the entire sixth month dragging my wife around toy stores throughout the state. Since all my old Star Wars ships were back in style for boys, I mostly searched for fun girl toys. Sadly, the coonskin cap and musket seemed like the two best things she’d ever own. I was appalled to learn that girls had to choose between things like plastic hamburgers, kitchen sets, and dolls that wet their pants. I tried to explain the shortcomings of these toys to my wife, but she insisted that girls loved them. I then asked why she no longer looked forward to doing dishes even though I still wanted to drive monster trucks and fly an X-Wing Fighter.

Fortunately, my wife doesn’t hold grudges. To prove she wasn’t bitter about my comments in the toy store, she thoughtfully enrolled us in a series of informative birthing classes. It probably slipped her mind that I have a weak stomach and it’s easy to forget about the time I passed out in the meat section at the grocery store, so I didn’t bother to remind her. After all, how hard could it be?


By the fourth class, I’d made it through the graphic birthing discussions, the ghastly picture books, and all the gruesome videos. Then, without warning, our instructor whipped out a stuffed replica of a placenta, complete with a stretchy rubber umbilical cord. As she started bouncing it around the room like an over-sized yo-yo, I slowly sank my colorless face into my lap and prayed it wouldn’t get any worse than this.

But it did.

She next asked each of us, in turn, to stand up in front of the class and change the diaper on a plastic baby. Up until then, my wife and I were the only ones who knew I was entering parenthood without any practical experience working with small children. This meant my peers had abnormally high expectations that I would successfully complete the assignment. The baby, who was scarred and disfigured from years of working with people just like me, knew better.

Minutes seemed to turn into hours as I wrestled with its tiny unyielding appendages, and it mocked my attempts at pinning the sweat-soaked cloth diaper onto its tiny underside. I was not to be beaten, though, and eventually held it out like Rafiki did with Simba in The Lion King.

And everyone snickered.

When I turned it around, it’s diaper was already sagging halfway down the crack of its bottom. If it could’ve willed itself to poop right then, no one would’ve been spared. My first attempt at parenthood was a complete failure, and I was beginning to doubt myself as a father. Fortunately I still had a month to hone my skills and seek some needed parental advice from our close family and friends.

Instead, advice poured in from every direction. In fact, we received more information about parenting and childbirth during the ninth month than was humanly possible to retain. By the end of it, we were ready to evict our baby from my wife’s stomach just to end all of the unsolicited, shockingly detailed conversations we kept having with complete strangers. We tried everything to induce labor. We went for car rides on bumpy roads. We watched scary movies. We ate peanut-buster parfaits. We walked stairs. We played golf. Nothing seemed to work. Worse, my wife was starting to worry about coping with pain during the delivery. So, I selflessly stubbed and broke my little toe on a door in our new house to prove how effective our breathing techniques were at relieving excruciating discomfort. Less than twenty-four hours later, we were playing a heated round of rock-paper-scissors en route to the hospital to see which one of us would get to ride in the wheelchair once we arrived at Labor and Delivery.

After faithfully going to our prenatal doctor visits, reading books full of information on pregnancy and childbirth, and attending every single birthing class, it amazed me how quickly I forgot everything I was supposed to do at that moment. The only piece of relevant advice I could recall came from a coworker who said, “During labor, do your best not to feel useless.” So that’s exactly what I did. When my wife wanted ice, I got it. When she wanted her back rubbed, I rubbed. When she wanted me to shut the hell up, I said nothing. Although my wife and I have different accounts of my heroics during the actual delivery, approximately twelve hours after entering the hospital I had gotten my broken toe properly bandaged AND my wife and I were the proud parents of a perfectly healthy, beautiful, baby boy.

A boy!

I soon learned that all the worries I had as an expectant father were in vain. Parenting, as luck would have it, actually came quite naturally and my God-given ability to swaddle my boy was unmatched. In fact, had it not been for my wife’s incessant reminders to change his diaper, we probably could’ve made a fortune compressing his meconium discharge into diamonds. I also found it only took a couple days to master diaper changing, although every day provided around a hundred chances for improvement. Most surprising, though, was how much I enjoyed dressing my son in the matching outfits my wife had found for him.

It seems girls have a pretty good thing going with those baby dolls after all.

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