Ask Your Dad...
New Parent Plans
When my wife, Liz, was pregnant we routinely took evening walks with our dog Suki through our neighborhood, past the local elementary school, and we tried to imagine how our unborn son would one day be in attendance there. We discussed how smart he would be. How we would require him to play at least one sport and one musical instrument. But we wouldn’t let such staunch requirements turn us into those weird “parenty” parents who did insane things like trying to pass off Geoffrey Chaucer to their kids as a preferred alternative to Sandra Boynton. (Of course, at the time, I had no idea who Boynton was. Now, at any given point in time, I’m two strong beers away from requesting “Barnyard Dance” at karaoke.) We didn’t have a defined strategy for protecting ourselves from such dangers, but we had a strong faith in our checks and balances, as a couple, to maintain a certain amount of chill.
“We should teach him a second language,” one of us said. “Or sign language.”
“Both, probably,” the other responded. “For sure.”
We had such great ideas.
When our son, Gus, was born, neither Liz nor I had ever changed a diaper, which I tell you now as evidence that we weren’t the kind of people who exude a natural maternal/paternal vibe. Some people gravitate toward children. We did not. (I don’t think we do now, either. But I did find myself joyously making unrequited wild animal noises in the direction of a toddler sitting across the aisle from me on a plane recently.) While there seems to be a general understanding that young parents have no idea what they’re doing, and there’s also a societal forgiveness we eagerly bestow upon those young parents, I’m not sure I’m still eligible for such forgiveness, given that I was in my mid-30s when Gus was born. I have a stable job with fantastic health insurance and we have a strong family support system. Liz was able to stay home with Gus for the first year of his life. We have every reasonable parenting resource available to us, but I’m still surprised we have kept a baby human being alive for 18 months.
This magazine is dedicated to parenting. This column was previously called Mama Said and written exclusively by mothers who are juggling multiple children better than they’re letting on, I’m sure of it. If I’m qualified to be here, writing these words—in theory, providing some guidance or reassurance to the rest of you parents out there that you are not alone—it’s on a technicality. Writing about the same topic, I feel more apt to publish this column in a magazine dedicated to surviving the dangers of the natural world—perhaps a sidebar to an article featuring a cyclist who fought off a mountain lion with a water bottle and an Allen wrench.
It’s January and I wanted to write a quirky article about my New Year’s resolutions, or maybe something profound about how the New Year brings rebirth, but what came out is the above cry for help. I can offer you no guidance as a parent, but perhaps I can offer some reassurance.
Even though Liz and I have not executed our plan to enroll our kid in a Spanish immersion class, or taught him the importance of a solid embouchure, he did come home from daycare the other day and repeatedly, confidently employed the hand sign for “more.” When we asked his teachers about it, they said they thought we had taught him, but of course that’s well beyond our current capabilities. After some investigating, we discovered there is a girl in his class who uses sign language (because her parents are ridiculous and should be publishing their own parenting magazine). Apparently Gus saw the girl get more food when she signed for it, so he decided to sign, too.
For him to be smart enough to pick up even that one word in American Sign Language on his own, despite the shortcomings of his parents, makes Liz and me so proud. And it tells us that as lost as we are, we must’ve done something right, even if we have no idea what it is.
Guy Choate lives in North Little Rock where he manages the Communications Team at Garver by day, and directs the Argenta Reading Series by night. He and his wife, Liz, are responsible for the well-being of their son, Gus, and a rescue dog named Suki. You can find more of his writing online at guychoate.com.