Lessons from Infants…

My first year of fatherhood has brought with it many lessons I never expected. Of course every new parent experiences changes and learns things they wouldn’t know otherwise. For example, no man can tell you how many weeks it is before you can really tell the sex of a fetus… unless he’s doctor, or he’s been there.

However, I’m talking about lessons – observations, really – I would not have come to without our little guy around. So, here are my top five for year one:

1 – Cattle Roping was invented by parents

I grew up in Texas, so by default I’m supposed to know how to rope, ride, and chase critters. Or so they tell me. But I have to admit I’ve always wondered why there’s so many theatrics when it comes to roping a calf. It’s a small, dumb animal. The roping horse is like Steven Hawking by comparison. So, for the even more intelligent human to come sailing off the already superior horse, tackle a calf, and tie its legs together kinda feels like you’re picking on the little guy.

Bear roping. Now that’s a fair sport.

But now I’ve realized that some cowboy with a little one at home got an unruly calf one day and figured… “Wait, I know how to handle this”. Thus, calf roping was born.

Don’t believe me? Try putting a diaper on an infant who can crawl. They no longer want to lay on their back. To them, everything is more interesting than lying there while you, quite literally, deal with their shit. So I’ve held both wrists and ankles in one hand while I perform the world’s fastest and least graceful diaper change with the other.

I’ve also said, screw it, and diapered the little minion while he’s crawling away. Which was about the time I realized the purpose of cattle roping. In fact, I’d probably be damn good at it.

2 – Hardcovers are awesome

Somewhere in this world of valuable space, scarce finances, and ebooks I decided that hard covers are a complete waste. I realize that is supposed to be sacrilege for a writer, but I see no purpose in a brick of reading material when it’s easier in softback, ebook, or audio file.

But Hardcovers are the greatest thing to happen to infants. You become thankful that your DVD collection is in those bulky, unnecessarily-large cases. “Sure, son, beat yourself in the head with Citizen Kane. Hurts, don’t it!”.

And the books children read are as thick as Science textbooks. But, they’re only six pages long. Each page is made of an individual two-by-four with rounded edges. Why? So that papercuts are impossible, and the pages won’t fall prey to the fate of normal paper which is…

Ripping. This is the natural pastime of unreading toddlers everywhere. My son loves flip books – they have handy flaps on each page which make tearing especially easy. And Dad’s car magazines exist for the sole purpose of creating confetti balls.

Which leads me to a new measure of childhood maturity, it’s not handing them the car keys, but actually reading a magazine.

3 – You will make noises

Ever looked at a parent and wondered how they became insane enough to repeat an annoying noise over and over while they sit at a restaurant? All it takes is one child discovering their voice or timing out and you’ll turn into a master of stupid sounds from an annoying made up language.

These little ones discover noises they can make and use it like a new toy until something else gets their attention. That leaves only a frazzled parent between you and a restaurant filled with an infant’s screaming. Suddenly, the parent turns into a makeup-less clown on a no-sleep bender. Faces. Chirps. Tongue out shenanigans. Partial words said over and over associated with jerky rocking motions into the child’s face. The only other place this happens is in the nice quiet hospitals with the white coats and straight jackets.

“Honey, is that man insane?… Oh, no wait… he has an infant.”

And this ewok noise I’m making is keeping him quiet. So go back to your dinner.

4 – Born to Dance

What makes us human and above lower forms of life? Complex thought? Tool building? Or maybe our construction of huge systems and cities?

I’ve come up with one. Rhythm. Not just the sense and awareness of the beat, but the uncontrollable urge to shake your ass. A part of me always thought you learned to really hear and appreciate music. But my son has been bobbing in time with sound since he could sit up. Give him a tune and he’ll shake and flail with abandon, a trait we all lose at some point when we get self-conscious. But for now, he’s a sucker for a good beat, and he was born that way. I lost it. I hope he never does.

5 – The Matrix exists.

No, I don’t mean we’re all living in a huge constructed program being used for batteries. I’m talking specifically about the “download” in the Matrix where a person doesn’t know how to fight one minute and then a moment later has all the knowledge to take down an army of Bruce Lees.

I’ve watched my son learn in this way. I don’t know where the huge brain needle is when this happens, but one minute he can’t do something and the next it just… clicks.

Clapping was this way. No idea. Can’t get it. No awareness. Then, literally, he woke up one morning going “Hey guys, look what I can do… applause.” I didn’t upload the program. And my wife wants to kill every nurse that approaches him with a needle, so I don’t think she did it either.

The most impressive one has been climbing the stairs, cause unlike clapping you can get injured if you do it wrong. The first few attempts were more like lucky falling and fumbling, finding himself atop a stair, maybe two, before getting bored of the whole enterprise. Then a few months ago, my wife looked around to discover our little guy had vanished. Where was he? Completely upstairs and still on the move.**

But going down the stairs eluded our little guy for quite some time. We tried to help. We moved him through the motion. We sat by him and let him try different things. However, as you may have noticed, there are a lot of limbs and coordination involved when you’re crawling down something. Then, a few days ago as I watched… he simply did it… no explanation or trial runs, he just coordinated all his limbs and climbed down the stairs.

So I began to wonder where this chair is he gets strapped into for a download. There’s a few things I would like to learn this way and save all the pesky practice and failure. After much thought, I think the key is naps.

**(As a side note, she told me this story with fear for his safety and concern that her moment of looking away was proof of terrible mothering – and my gut reaction was… “Awesome… good for him”. – which encapsulated the difference between men and women. I suppose it also labels me as one of those “hard knock” parents – “Yeah, let him stick his finger in the socket, he’ll only do that once!”. Thankfully he does have his mother.)

I have no doubt there will be many more revelations of the world through my son’s discoveries. But for now the little guy needs to be roped, and then he’s going to chew on a hardcover book. Eventually, he’ll go down for a nap while we make a series of strange noises, at which point I intend to sleep as well because I’m hoping to wake up speaking French.

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