I was talking to a buddy of mine the other day who informed me that he and his wife had decided they were ready to have kids. My reaction was the same one I have whenever anyone tells me they are ready to have kids: I howled.
Luckily we were talking via IM so he couldn't see me doubled over on the ground, slapping my knee with tears running down my face as I laughed hysterically until I wet myself.
Ready, eh? Uh huh. Sure you are.
People who say they're ready for children remind me of these yahoos you see on the news who refuse to evacuate their homes when a Category 5 hurricane is headed their way.
"We just gon' ride it out," a shirtless guy in a trucker's cap will say defiantly, his muumuu-wearing wife nodding in agreement behind him. "We ain't scared."
Then the next day you see them standing next to a rubble heap that was their home just 24 hours before, ashen and bug-eyed and shaking too hard to light that cig and can somebody gimme a light? That is, if they even survive the storm.
How many times have you told someone who's expecting, "Get ready. Your life is about to change," and they reply, "Oh, I know." No, you don't know. You think you do, but you don't.
I thought I was ready to be a parent, too. Don't we all? We read books and talk to friends and do everything else we can to prepare ourselves, which is great -- the more knowledge, the better. All that knowledge still won't make you ready, though. Parenting is one of those things that you must experience before you can fully comprehend it, much like a colonoscopy or that ride at Six Flags that drops you in a freefall from eight stories up.
Don't get me wrong. I love being a dad. Love. It. Of all the roles I play in life, dad is far and away my favorite. I never thought I could love another person the way I love my child, and she is a source of endless joy and entertainment for my wife and me.
But -- this just in -- parenting is hard. Like, really hard. The hardest thing I've ever done, and I've written a book and climbed the Middle Teton. (Not at the same time, mind you.)
Of course, you moms already know it's hard, don't you?
My point is this: Parenthood is a singular experience that must be lived to be believed. The joy, the frustration, the what-the-hell-have-I-gotten-myself-into moments -- words cannot capture any of it. You just have to do it to understand it.
So when someone tells me they are ready to have kids, I don't really howl, but I do chuckle to myself and think, "No, you aren't ready, but that's okay -- you'll rise to the occasion like the rest of us. Then when the shock wears off in eight or ten years, you'll be fine."
When I was 21 or 22 and knew everything there was to know about anything, my father and I were arguing one day. I'd finally gotten up the nerve to question him about certain things he'd done when my sisters and I were kids, things I considered inappropriate or mean or unnecessary. As he tried to explain his motives and I rebutted every reason he gave, the poor guy finally just shook his head and said what many parents will say when trying in vain to explain or justify their parenting:
"You'll understand one day when you have kids of your own."
At the time I thought it was a cop-out. Now I realize he was absolutely right.