Nine months pregnant with my first child, I was hanging out at late-night parties, flitting about town for work and pleasure, and generally living the “fast-paced” life I’d moved to New York for in the first place.
And then I had a baby. Nothing can prepare anyone for the birth of a baby: the overwhelming love, the overwhelming exhaustion, the complete loss of a social life. Suddenly, the trip from Brooklyn to Manhattan seemed daunting, but, then again, so did a trip to the grocery store.
This is a familiar narrative, one that expectant parents try (mostly in vain) to prepare themselves for. And, from the outside, it is stories like this one that make new parents imagine that their lives will “slow down.” That was the exact phrase my first-time pregnant friend used the other day in an online conversation. Except she capped it. “Our lives will definitely slow DOWN! Not a bad thing though!” she wrote.
I nearly spit out my drink (non-alcoholic, I’m currently pregnant with my second). Slow down? SLOW DOWN?!? Here I was, happy to have 10 minutes of unadulterated computer time to myself (ignoring the cries of a child who always wants just “one more tiny sip of water” before bed), and a pregnant woman had just confessed that she thought having a baby would slow her life down.
I wanted to shake her through the computer screen and say, no, no, no, my friend, what you have right now is a beautiful, slow life. You may enjoy a weekend brunch at noon, if you like, after waking up at 10 a.m. or so – fully rested – and perhaps afterward leisurely leaf through that paperback you picked up on a whim at the bookstore the other day.
On Monday, when you leave for work, you will have enjoyed breakfast, coffee, showering, and dressing yourself at your own pace, on your own terms – even if that means waking up five minutes before you leave and doing all those things at lightning speed. If your partner is in a good mood, he or she may even have made the bed or coffee for you.
After work, you may choose to go out with friends, go to the gym, catch an early movie, hit that end-of-season clothing sale, or do whatever you want, which may be nothing at all!
Now, I ask you, parents who have a baby, does that sound like a fast life or a slow one?
Indeed, it turns out that having a baby means your life will never stop speeding up (at least until they leave the house). Yes, it is true that in those first weeks and months of a new life, there are truly blissful moments of serenely staring into your baby’s face and contemplating the simple pleasures and beauties of creation. But then life creeps back in. And you have to learn how to compact everything you spent all day doing in your pre-baby life into an hour or two while your baby naps or is occupied by that expensive developmental toy. The rest of the time, your baby will be awake and your attention will be demanded – loudly, firmly, repeatedly, again and again and again, until you put down the magazine you thought you could sneak a peek at and attend to his or her needs.
As your baby reaches development milestones, so will you. Baby: Learns how to grasp objects. Mom: Learns how to check entire outfit for unfortunate stains before leaving the house. Baby: Achieves the ability to roll over. Dad: Achieves the ability to pick up home full of baby toys before mom reaches her wit’s end. In other words, as your baby learns her world for the first time, you’re re-learning how to live life over again – hopefully with a modicum of grace.
If you stay at home with your baby, you will start to schedule activities to keep your baby occupied. These activities will not engage your intellect in any way, and many of the other parents you meet will be annoying. You will not find time for yourself.
The busiest people I know are dual working parents. They rise at ungodly hours just to be able to shower, dress, and feed themselves before their baby wakes so they can attend to diaper changing, dressing, feeding, and, again, diaper changing.
Many then leave early to drop their baby at daycare, before heading to work at a job they will have to leave earlier than all their other colleagues – not for the department softball league or to hit happy hour right at 5 p.m. but to pick up their beloved muffin before they get charged $10 a minute in overtime fees, again.
I won’t go into brunch. We have brunched with my son from the beginning, but the word “leisurely” ceases to enter the vocabulary. Eating out simply falls into two categories – “successful” or “disastrous” – and it has nothing to do with the quality of anyone’s eggs Benedict.
Of course, I don’t know one parent who wouldn’t say that it’s all worth it – for the sweet smile, the progress in independence, and the little things that little people do to make a home a little brighter. And there are certainly times when having a baby forces you appreciate those often unnoticed things: the sunlight playing on a wall, the pleasures of reading aloud at night, the warmth of an unprompted grin.
But I guarantee that these parents are appreciating the idea of the “slow life” while functioning on an amount of sleep usually restricted to medical residents and squeezing an unbelievable amount of “must-dos” into an unbelievably tiny amount of time. Ninety-nine percent of what they do for themselves happens before 7 a.m. or after 8 p.m., and often involves a costly evening of babysitting.
They are, in other words, insanely busy. Though, I would also argue, better people for it.