This morning, my nine-month-old son knocked over a pile of unwrapped videogames stacked at the edge of my entertainment center. Actually, his hand brushed against them while I danced around the living room with him in my arms. We were listening to Squeeze records, and Pulling Mussels (From a Shell) was on. It is our favorite. My first instinct was to curse under my breath, but I was out of it. Dancing like an idiot is taxing enough when you are not lugging 20 pounds of giggling baby around the room with you. So instead, I just smiled. Or, rather, I continued smiling. Lately, if the timing’s right, I sometimes find it tough to stop. And that’s a good thing, right?
It’s 6:00 a.m., and I’ve been awake for an hour, which is ridiculous. At this time last year, I was still following my pre-baby pattern. Play videogames (sometimes for work, sometimes not) late into the night, fall into bed whenever the feeling struck me, and roll out again at an hour that would allow me to magically appear in the office before my employees. It the world of videogame journalism, that was not hard to do. To most of my coworkers, 10:00 a.m. was the most civilized time morning had to offer, and they grudgingly accepted it as the work day’s starting point, like foreigners ordering in a questionable restaurant.
Back then, the thought of stacking a bunch of un-played games in the corner of my house would have been unthinkable. I should at least open them, right? Throw them in and try them out? When I was writing about games for a living, I had a five-minute rule. Fire up a game, sit back, and start playing. If it didn’t grab my attention in five minutes, I quit and grabbed something else. But these days, I don’t even have time to indulge the five-minute rule.
Let me tell you something about babies. They don’t sleep as much as you might think. For the first week or so, they lull you into a false sense of security, dozing most of the day and night, waking only to blink and eat. I remember sitting on the couch in the afternoon during my paternity leave, the shades in my California apartment drawn tight so my newest family member could doze in the cradle beside me. I played Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes HD for hours on end, thrilled that fatherhood hadn’t hampered my gaming life. If anything, it had improved it. The company that paid me to play games had generously given me a few weeks off to adjust to life with baby. And I was spending a remarkable amount of that time playing games. Suckers!
But, like a demonic antagonist in a videogame, a newborn baby soon wakes from its slumber to bathe the land in blood and fire. The townspeople knew all along that the beast’s sleep was a tenuous illusion. But they chose to ignore it. They went about their lives, one eye always on the cave at the top of the mountain, ears pricked for the slightest sound of rumbling.
Parents do this too. “Maybe our baby will be different,” they tell each other. “Maybe he will sleep through the night from the beginning.” But they know. Deep down, they know. Soon my son was doing what normal infants do: sleeping for a few hours, waking up to eat, sleeping a bit more, waking up to be active, sleeping a bit more. At first, it’s a shock to the parent’s system. Living your life in two-hour intervals forces you to view the world differently. “What should I do tonight?” becomes: “In about an hour, I will have two hours to myself, at best. I have seven hours worth of things to do, including personal grooming, banking, home repair, family communication, eating, entertaining myself and sleeping.” By the time you finish that thought, your body has succumbed to the latter.
It gets better. So goes the mantra of the Kindly Parental Stranger. They’re everywhere, these people. Shopping malls, grocery stores, parks, restaurants. They sense the plight of the new parent like a Scientologist can sniff out a vulnerable actor. When my son started waking up at all hours of the night to recreationally scream and poop, I would take long walks with him during the day, mainly to get out of the house, which had begun to smell like a combination of Wal-Mart and the Humane Society. On my walks, they would always find me. At the time, it annoyed me. Am I really doing such a horrible job at as a new dad that this middle-aged women needs to stop me, lay a blinged-out hand on my shoulder and reassure me that “it gets better?”