Wednesday, October 31, 2012

So THIS is What Parenting a Baby is Really Like

I tried so hard to hold my ground last year as Sarah and her mom worked me relentlessly on the topic of Sarah and me having a second child together. I kept saying I was due for a difficult baby (both Jackson and Max were incredibly easy babies and awesome sleepers), and that having two little ones would be exponentially more difficult. They told me I was worrying for nothing, that another child would probably be just as cooperative as Max, that it was critical we give him a playmate--preferably a girl.

Guess who turned out to be right? 

I realize it's early, and once things settle down I can draw new conclusions…but so far, the verdict is in, and William is definitely a "fussy" baby. Six weeks in, and he has yet to sleep more than 3 hours in a row, and even that's quite rare.  It's too early to declare him colicky--we're both holding out hope that his fussiness will subside over the next week or two. As it stands now, Sarah spends most nights up and down, up and down, generously allowing me to sleep because when morning comes, Max will be my responsibility. Then, most days, William fusses throughout the day, falling asleep for brief moments in our arms and then awakening again as soon as we try to put him down.

For 15 years, I've wondered what other parents were doing wrong that was preventing their children--and them--from sleeping consistently.  For 15 years, I've been thankful that I wasn't being subjected to the kind of exhaustion so many parents lament. For 15 years, I've lived in la-la land. Welcome to reality, Tony. Sleepus interruptus has officially arrived in the form of William Oliver, and it's as hard as I'd feared and imagined. Harder, even.

Having a fussy baby and a pre-schooler at the same time has now moved high on my list of things I wouldn't wish on my worst enemies. In fact, I think our approach to jurisprudence needs to be rethought. Never mind prison--I say that when people are convicted of horrible crimes, they should be punished by having to raise a fussy baby and a rebellious pre-schooler for as long as a judge decrees. Believe me, anyone forced to do such penance will be transformed. I know I am.

There is nothing quite so frustrating as spending hours of your life desperately trying to get a baby to sleep--walking, singing, coddling, swaddling, feeding, burning, bouncing, patting--and then, when it seems the little one is down for the count, you try to put him down, oh so gently, so as not to disturb him, only to watch in horror as within seconds he's squirming and whining, and that fantasy of a few quiet moments to lie down in peace goes up in flames.

Yes, these are the times that try men's souls. I'd say they're the times that try women's souls, too, but let's face it--moms are better equipped to deal with fussy babies. The physical and emotional ties that bind baby and mother together enable mom to deal with sleep deprivation and round-the-clock fussiness with more patience and understanding that I could ever muster. Me, I find myself going all Samuel L. Jackson on the little sucker, letting loose with regular choruses of "Please go the fuck to sleep!"

So there you have it--one 46-year-old dad's struggle to cope with a house where sleep is elusive, a pre-schooler demands round-the-clock entertainment and attention, and an exhausted wife walks the house like a zombie wondering what hit her.

I know it all sounds so good that you wish you could change places with me. Sorry, you'll just have to be satisfied being stuck in your peaceful, sleep-filled, movie-going, restaurant-eating existences. Suckers!

UPDATE (Added after realizing that I posted this in a hurry initially and probably should have saved to finish later):

All kidding aside, the past six weeks have given me some great gifts:

1) I've learned just how much inner strength Sarah has--and it's substantial. The woman is endlessly patient as she spends hour after hour nurturing William no matter how tired she is, or how exhausted her arms are, or how helpless she is to make him feel better.

2) I've also learned how many gassy vegetables there are, as Sarah has become disturbingly dependent on zucchini.

3) I've developed an even greater level of appreciation for the first months I spent with my other, non-gassy, non-fussy children.

4) I've gained new insight into my relationship with my brother by watching the impact William's arrival has had on Max, and the degree to which he's had to give up the spotlight. Greg--it was all a setup! (Not that my brother ever takes the time to actually read my blog.)

5) I've gotten yet another lesson in the power of parental love, as no matter how much William has kept me--and to a much greater extent, Sarah--from getting solid sleep, our hearts melt every time the little bugger manages to work up a smile for either of us.

6) Perhaps most important, William's arrival has injected me with a needed dose of self-reflection, and it may be just the jolt I've needed to put my life in the proper perspective. I believe he's helping me learn to accept the things I haven't been able to do that maybe I wanted to do by now, while appreciating the things that I (we) so often take for granted.

Seriously, though, buddy--that's enough with the gifts. This fussy baby stuff is hard work for an old guy. Let's get to the fun part, hopefully sooner rather than later.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Severing the Kontzer Bloodline--and My Youth

During a recent social gathering, a few of my guy friends were sitting in a circle comparing vasectomy tales when the one woman listening in, weary from all the talk of scrotums and masterbating into cups, chimed in: "All of my girlfriends in their 30s have no idea what they're in for."

Sister, you said a mouthful. Oh, yuck. Probably could have worded THAT better.

In any case, I tell you this story because, having successfully brought a third son into the world, I, too, subjected myself to the snipping of my vas deferens. It's a fatherhood rite of passage that's strikes me as being not unlike the proverbial succession of lemmings leaping off a cliff to their deaths. And it speaks volumes about what parenting brings into men's lives that after knocking up their wives a couple of times, they willingly run to their doctors' offices to get injections in their nut sacks and allow a relative stranger to sever a part of their reproductive system.

Me, I'd actually never really considered whether I'd ever get fixed until a few months ago, when Sarah broached the topic. And although I'm pretty confident there's not a man in the known universe who can even mention the word vasectomy without cringing slightly in his mid-section from phantom sympathy pains, I had to admit that the arguments for it made perfect sense. I mean, Sarah had just endured two grueling pregnancies in less than 4 years, so asking her to voluntarily subject herself to the much-more-invasive tube-tying procedure wasn't really an option. Spending the remaining pre- and peri-menopausal years of Sarah's life dealing with, arguing about, and cursing birth control devices and methods sounded like a pain in the ass, and would quite likely result in another baby anyway. And the reward for agreeing to get snipped -- a lifetime of carefree, unprotected sex -- was well worth the sacrifice. Of course, that's easy to say in retrospect.

As of my writing this, it's been 13 days since the procedure, and I'm almost completely healed. And while the procedure itself was a relative breeze, the first week of recovery surprised me in its consistent level of discomfort. Imagine, if you will, feeling like an especially sensitive part of your skin was being pinched constantly by a pliers, and you start to get the feeling. Add the particular location, and you have a recipe for a very awkward week.

It's also way too early to make a final determination of the procedure's efficacy. In fact, it'll be four months--four months!--before a semen analysis can confirm that I am, in fact, sperm-free. Good thing that as a new father, those four months don't figure to be the busiest of my life on that front.

Anyway, I digress...back to that discussion a few months ago with Sarah. I don't remember precisely where/when it happened or exactly what was said (Sarah probably does--how do they DO that!?), but I remember that she made a compelling case, and I agreed it sounded like a good idea. Although somehow it took me weeks to make an appointment with my primary to get a referral, and then weeks more to make the fateful consultation appointment.

In the last 24 hours before the procedure, I started to really get nervous. The mental image of that injection was almost too much to bare, and I was haunted by all the pained looks I got from men when I informed them of my plans. Then again, these were men who had not, in fact, had vasectomies yet. You can tell the ones who roll their eyes at all the panic wasted in anticipation of what is really a pretty humdrum affair.

Well, I should correct myself--the actual procedure is humdrum. But much of what happens around it is not. Like sitting, sans pants, on the procedure table while two young nurses bustle around the room in preparation, getting instruments displayed on a tray, placing surgical towels around my privates until only the scrotum is visible. And then they place the light in position, and voila, showtime at the Ball Sack Theater! Seriously, I was literally lying there, with my nuts on a brightly lit stage, as these two women made small talk with each other and me. Awkward! And then the lead nurse's departing words? "Hang tight." Very funny, lady.

So there I hung, tightly, for at least 10 very humbling minutes. For some reason, I found myself wondering what the hell I'd do if there were suddenly a huge earthquake. Apparently, having one's balls on display makes one feel vulnerable. Almost immediately upon his entrance, the doctor was giving me the much feared injection, which, to be honest, was almost undetectable. I've had pees that burned far worse than anything I felt then, or, for that matter, throughout the rest of the procedure. As he proceeded to make two small incisions, and then snipped, cauterized and clamped my vas deferens, the doctor talked non-stop politics with me, finding lots of effective distraction in the topic of the first Obama-Romney debate, which occurred just a couple of days earlier. (The thought of Romney running things was far more painful than anything the doctor was doing to me.)

When he'd finished, the doctor slipped on his gloves, and walked out of the room with the nurses close behind, instructing me to put my clothes on--slowly--and then wait for him to come back with some post-surgery instructions, which centered around icing, meds, tight underwear, and a complete lack of physical activity.

Suffice it to say, I've never felt more focused on my nether-region than I did for the days that followed, and that even includes when I was 19 and hadn't gotten laid in more than a year. But I'm happy to report that after a week, the surgical wound started feeling a lot better, and the benefits of the surgery started to appear on my mental horizon. It'll only be a matter of time before Sarah wonders what she's gotten herself into.

Speaking of women not knowing what they're getting themselves into, that brings us back to the social gathering the other night--notable because I was actually one of the guys sharing my vasectomy story. And when our female friend pointed out the age-specific nature of our topic, it hit me--forget turning 40, NOW I'd officially arrived in middle age. And that, more than anything, may be the most important legacy of the vasectomy. It is the official declaration that your youth is over. That your usefulness to the continuation of the species has expired. That your days as the generation in charge are numbered.

Amazing how symbolic a little snip can be.