Sunday, February 16, 2014

Changing a diaper is easy

Men who are expecting their first child present a rare gift. We observe a collision of values and stereotypes: pride vs. fear; machismo vs. sensitivity. Conversations with these guys enable me to actually feel like an expert. I have four children of my own so I must know something! Of course, this expertise -- like most -- is just a shallow veneer over survival instincts and luck that nothing has gone seriously off-course.

Sometimes these men will confide their greatest concern like it's a dark secret: "I've never changed a diaper!" Oh, my friend... changing diapers will become a deeply ingrained and over-learned task within days of having a new born. There really is no subtlety of technique. There is no zen-like fulfilment in a handicraft well accomplished. Just get it done. Frequently. There can be some subtleties of technique: girls are a bit different than boys and a newborn is different from a two year old. But really, you just need to do it and the only measure of quality is a general lack of poo in the general environment. Sometimes you get a challenge (e.g., on the front seat of a car or changing a sleeping baby in the middle of the night without waking her up) but a small amount of experience is enough to prepare one for these outliers.

"Changing a diaper" is really a metaphor to capture all of those nurturing tasks that we are unprepared for by way of societal mores and stereotypes. How does a man actually do all of those things that mothers simply do better? Quite frankly, I don't know. My youngest daughter is about ten months old and my wife recently had her first overnight trip away. It was just Tilly and me -- and the rest of the kids -- for the night. It turned out to be a long one and I was regularly made aware that I simply can't do everything for Tilly that her mum can. But that's okay. When she is sad in the middle of the night, I may not be her first choice but I'm definitely her second.

Guys aren't conditioned to be in second place. We want to win. But when it comes to nurturing, second is a pretty darned good place to be. The trick is to not get angry about being in second place (or, for that matter, to even being part of a competition that involves being up in the middle of the night). One thing that four kids has taught me is that the sun eventually rises on those long nights and that there are only so many nights where they actually want your nurturing. It's better to enjoy them when you can.